PLOT: A true account of historian Deborah Lipstadt’s (Rachel Weisz) battle with holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall), who sues her for libel after characterizing him as such in a book she wrote.
REVIEW: It’s amazing to think that in the 21st century anyone could possibly deny the Holocaust happened. Yet, hate is hate and to this day a vocal, highly anti-Semitic fringe group of believers exist that promulgate the theory that it never happened. Only ten years ago, a major court battle was fought in London where Jewish-American historian Deborah Lipstadt was, in essence, forced by British libel laws to prove the Holocaust actually happened – something which boggles the mind.
Lipstadt’s battle with David Irving, a self-taught historian known for his passionate defenses of Hitler, is the basis of this film and while essentially a straight-forward docudrama, it can’t be denied the subject matter is highly compelling. It’s an excellent vehicle for Weisz, cast against type as the Queens-born Lipstadt, and she utterly disappears into the part. She expertly conveys Lipstadt’s understandable outrage at her predicament, made worse by the fact that she’s essentially muzzled by her legal team as a tactic. She has no choice but to sit by and watch as her integrity is called into question while Irving argues that the systematic extermination of Europe’s Jewish population by the Nazis never happened. Robbed of any big speeches or rousing moments of triumph, Weisz is forced to convey a whole range of emotion during the courtroom scenes via looks alone, and her performance is masterful.
Just as good is Timothy Spall. Playing an absolutely venal character, he’s remarkably good, never playing Irving as a madman but rather more of a pathetic figure and it’s tough to take your eyes off-him. The always great Tom Wilkinson plays his sparring partner, LIpstadt’s barrister, who knows exactly how to un-nerve Irving, never making eye-contact with him and treating him with disdain – upsetting his fragile ego. Watching these three all go head-to-head is a pleasure.
A movie like this really lives or dies by the acting, and in that regard DENIAL is well-served by everyone, including ‘Sherlock’s’ Andrew Scott as Lipstadt’s solicitor, finally cast as something other than a villain by Hollywood. The movie itself is pretty middle-of-the-road, with it coming-off more like a really good HBO Film than a feature, which is probably semi-intentional as director Mick Jackson, who’s probably still best-known for THE BODYGUARD, has directed some great cable films, including TEMPLE GRANDIN and LIVE FROM BAGHDAD. Other than a well-staged trip to Auschwitz, which is filmed almost totally silent and free of Howard Shore’s sometime over-bearing musical score, most of the movie is talking heads and back-and-forth, so there’s not a whole lot Jackson could do to make it really feature-worthy.
DENIAL might be served just as well by the small-screen as the large, but it’s still good, adult entertainment and a smart, educational work. There’s always an audience for this kind of stuff, and while DENIAL isn’t quite good enough to get any serious Oscar attention, it’s still well-assembled and intriguing. The acting is great, the story is true and while it could have just as easily worked as a TV film than as a feature, it’s still really worth checking-out.