The Watchers

The Watchers

Friday, 3 February 2017

Review: Denial (UK Cert 12A)

Released in the UK on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Denial seems a scarily prescient film (especially given our current political era of post-truth and alternative facts). 

It is the story of the libel action taken by British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) in 2000 against American professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her publisher, claiming that Lipstadt's assertion that Irving had deliberately manipulated historical fact to prove the Holocaust didn't happen has defamed him. Irving brings the action at the High Court in London and, under the vagaries of the British judicial system, it is down to Lipstadt's legal team to prove their case.

It's an undeniably powerful film, incredibly well made, well written (by playwright David Hare) and well acted across the board.

Weisz is great as the fiery Lipstadt, her brash Americanisms rubbing up against the more genteel British legal team. Initially furious that neither she nor any survivors of Auschwitz are being called to testify, she soon realises that she has to, in her words, hand her conscience over and trust they will do the right thing. Timothy Spall's performance as Irving is similarly remarkable, making an abhorrent character almost charming. There's something oddly reptilian about his performance as Irving conducts his own legal case, trying to trip up the experts. I very much doubt the real Irving is as oddly likeable.

Tom Wilkinson gives an air of dignified gravitas to his role as Richard Rampton QC (presenting Lipstadt's case to the court). The scene where he gets to cross-examine Irving is a particular highpoint. There's also a lovely turn by Andrew Scott as the charismatic solicitor Anthony Julius who helps to prepare Lipstadt's case.

Hare used the verbatim court transcripts for the trial scenes, so whatever is said by the characters in court was actually said during the real trial. It gives a sense of real authenticity. There's also a short but very moving section of the film which takes place at Auschwitz (and was actually filmed there too) where the legal team go to undertake research and there's a clash between Rampton and Lipstadt which Wilkinson and Weisz play to the absolute hilt.

I found the film fascinating, occasionally infuriating, incredibly moving and just superb. I wanted more of it. It's the kind of story that could do well as a TV mini-series. As it is, though, a tremendous piece of British filmmaking. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


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