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DenialUnited Kingdom/United Kingdom 2016
Directed by Mick Jackson
Running time 109 minutes
Synopsis: American academic Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) goes to court in the U.K. to defend herself against a libel suit brought by British historian and Holocaust denier, David Irving (Timothy Spall).
Most people will be drawn to this film by its subject matter - that of Holocaust denial and in particular the claims of its pin-up boy, David Irving. The film certainly confronts these matters head-on but the dramatic focus is actually more upon the conflict between Lipstadt’s very American, highly emotive response to Irving’s suit and the coolly dispassionate approach of her English defence team, particularly as embodied by her attorney, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), and barrister, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson).
Scripted by the much lauded English playwright, David Hare, working from Lipstadt’s first-hand account of the trial and delivered with efficiency by British director Mick Jackson who has worked largely in television, the film is, as you might expect from a BBC production, an intelligently crafted story with a focused agenda that does justice to its subject matter (albeit that the film’s closing overstates the identification between Lipstadt and the Celtic warrior queen, Boadicea, who led an uprising against the Roman occupiers in 60 AD).
Hare’s nicely-judged script has Lipstadt boxed-in from the get-go by her legal team who will hear nothing of her instructions to destroy Irving’s heinous denials with a torrent of first-hand confirmations. Indeed they won’t even put her in the witness box. Instead, they take a forensic approach to identifying the intentional omissions and outright lies in Irving’s own work and the anti-Semitic motives which underlie them, aspects which are the keys to winning the case under the British system
Somewhat ironically, this leaves Weisz little to do but show Lipstadt as a passionate and blunt-speaking American interloper while the men go to the barricades in the tradition-steeped halls of British justice. Anthony Scott, all private school savoir faire is particularly good as Lipstadt’s primary strategist but it is Tom Wilkinson who steals the show as the man on whom the burden of proof depends and who seeks within himself for everything he has to give. On the other side, Timothy Spall who has lost so much weight as to be barely recognizable, has no towering moments but he is truly repugnant as the supercilious, self-aggrandizing hate-peddler.
Denial is a modestly-scaled, eminently British courtroom drama that demands close attention and is so much the better for it.
FYI: During the film reference is made to Holocaust denier Fred Leuchter on whose bogus “evidence” Irving based some of his own false claims. Leuchter was the subject of an excellent 1999 documentary, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.