Another movie based on a true story, and the eternal question for those kinds of movies – is Denial any good and should you go to see it, particularly if it’s an incident you’re aware of?
The answers are yes and definitely yes.
Denial stars Rachel Weisz as acclaimed writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt, who is sued in the late 1990’s by Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) for libel. Irving sues in the UK, meaning that the burden of proof of innocence lies on the defendant. The UK branch of Lipstadt’s publisher, Penguin (this event takes place before the Penguin Random House merger), tells her that if she wants to fight the accusations, they’re behind her. And never have I been so proud of my publisher (I’m a DAW Books author, which is a division of Penguin, now PRH).
Lipstadt, who is a Jewish woman and, as she points out, therefore gives Irving a two for one target, at first isn’t going to mount a defense, but after watching a variety of hate being spewed by Irving, decides she’s going for it – not just for herself but for everyone who died because of the Holocaust.
Penguin arranges Lipstadt’s defense team, consisting of barrister Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and solicitor Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson). They in turn collect a team, including renowned historian Prof. Richard Evans (John Sessions) and go to work. Not proving Lipstadt’s innocence, but rather proving that Irving is an anti-Semitic liar who systematically altered facts to exonerate Hitler.
Irving is charismatic and fully convinced of his rightness. He also feels that he’s not a racist, nor a liar, nor anything other than a champion of truth. He’s David to Penguin’s defense team’s Goliath. Only David was a Jew, and I don’t think Irving ever got the irony. He epitomizes everything horrible and dangerous about wealthy charismatic liars who have chosen to hate certain parts of humanity and how they influence their particular crowds, and while I know it won’t happen, everyone in America should see this movie before they vote for our next President.
Along the way, Lipstadt clashes with her legal team over her role – they want her silent, and won’t allow any Holocaust survivors to take the stand – while learning the British legal system and dealing with having to fundraise to assist with legal expenses. During a dinner with influential Jews in London, Lipstadt mentions that one man in America offered to pay for everything, but she felt that it was more important for the money to come from all over, so that this defense of history was defended by the entire community. Near to the end, you’ll catch a snippet from a reporter that identifies who that man was. It’s not a shock, but it was a pleasant little Easter Egg.
The acting is amazing. Each of the main actors you’ve seen in other things, each are distinctive looking so you should see them as themselves. And yet, they become their characters so completely, Weisz in particular, that you feel that you’re there, warts and all. And there are warts. Lipstadt isn’t used to having to rely on others, and she’s forced into a situation where she must remain mostly a silent, inactive partner.
The movie also takes Lipstadt and others to Auschwitz, the cornerstone of Irving’s contention that there were no gas chambers. These scenes are not showy, but they’re still powerful and horrible – a testament to the worst humanity can be. There are a few scenes where the production leaves the here and now and shows us what Lipstadt is “seeing” in her mind. They’re few and brief, but the friend who came with me felt they were unnecessary. They didn’t bother me, but I point this out because this was about his only complaint with the movie.
The movie is a quiet movie – there are no explosions or car chases, no dramatic final act grandstanding from anyone, just the methodical taking apart of a racist’s warped view of history, but there are many scenes that are nail biting in their intensity, and the final judgment will have you holding your breath, even if you know how this case turned out. If you’re someone bemoaning the lack of thoughtful, adult, quality films and you don’t see Denial, well, then stop complaining, because this is that kind of film.
My friend said this was the best movie he’s seen all year, and I while I enjoyed a few others more, I can’t argue with the sentiment, because Denial is riveting, instructive, moving, and important. Denial will definitely be on my 10 Best for 2016 list.
Especially in this particular political season, Denial is a movie that needs to be seen.
Rating: 5 Stars
Based on the acclaimed book “Denial: Holocaust History on Trial”, Denial recounts Deborah E. Lipstadt’s (Academy Award® winner Rachel Weisz) legal battle for historical truth against David Irving (BAFTA nominee Timothy Spall), who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier. In the English legal system, in cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the defendant, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team led by Richard Rampton (Academy Award® nominee Tom Wilkinson), to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall
Directed By : Mick Jackson
Adapted for screen by: David Hare
Produced By: Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff