Denial – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Mick Jackson
Writers: David Hare (screenplay), Deborah Lipstadt (based on the book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” by)
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall
In a court battle between David and Goliath, you’d expect to root for the underdog. But if the self-represented underdog is also a Nazi sympathising Holocaust denier, then the balance is once again shifted. Such is the case in Denial, written by David Hare. Based on Lipstadt’s book: ‘History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,’ the film follows the 1996 court case involving David Irving and Deborah Lipstadt in which Irving sued the Jewish academic for defamation.
Mick Jackson’s film has an innately theatrical feel (unsurprising perhaps given that writer David Hare is best known as a playwright); celebrating big characters and battles of intellect over action and location (despite the somewhat inevitable visit to a snow-covered Auschwitz.) At times this theatricality is the best thing about the film, engaging the mind with the subtle complexities of court; and the process of building an argument however simple the truth may seem. However, it is at times too heavy handed; seemingly forgetting that it is unnecessary to expand to the far reaches of an auditorium.
Rachel Weisz is unrelenting as Deborah Lipstadt, making her enforced silence amongst teams of lawyers all the more poignant. But as the film is largely from her perspective, the insistence of the lawyers that neither she nor any holocaust survivors take the stand; and their decision to largely shut her out of the finer details of the case, means that we too often lose insight into the motivations which elsewhere provide some of the most engaging elements of the film. Andrew Scott and Tom Wilkinson play the two lawyers leading the case with their usual innate sensitivities; but it is Timothy Spall who really steals the show with his utterly fascinating performance as David Irving. Irving has undeniably controversial and extreme beliefs; but Spall offers a poise and complexity, which highlight the humanity and rhetorical prowess of Irving, thus making him a far more interesting character than merely the villain.
With moments of utter brilliance, Denial provides a lesson in character, and control. But like Weisz’s performance, the film as a whole is sometimes too considered, and too dramatic; over-intellectualising what could have been a classic courtroom drama, bringing one of the most famous and fateful moments of recent history into question.