Film review: DENIAL, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Denial begins with a familiar caption ‘based on a true story’ but it’s more pertinent here than in most other films as Denial recounts a legal case in which truth and historical fact were out on trial.

The film concerns the liable case brought against American history professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her publishers Penguin Books by British author David Irving (Timothy Spall) in 1996 following the publication of her book in which she challenged his denial of the Nazi Holocaust. Tried in the British court system the trial ran for years and a verdict didn’t arrive until 2000.

As much as a battle against Irving, Professor Lipstadt’s story is presented as a personal struggle to honour holocaust victims, a fight against the male arrogance of some of her legal team, a clash between a passionate person with a deep emotional link to the subject on trial and seemingly cold pragmatists and a confrontation between a left-leaning American academic and the stuffy conservative British legal establishment.

The film could have easily lapsed into cliché but David Hare’s erudite script and excellent performances from a top drawer cast bring both clarity and powerful emotion to the complex issues tried in court. Consequently, the film becomes an engaging personal story as well as a riveting courtroom drama.

Rachel Weisz brings to the character of Deborah Lipstadt a potent mix of determination righteousness, compassion and vulnerability. We identify with her because she is an outsider in a strange environment. For her the Dickensian-looking British legal world is an alien place where both ceremony and strategy don’t always make sense.

Timothy Spall does some scenery chewing as Irving and makes him look a little too pompous like some sort of Coles Funny Picture Book character but he also depicts him as someone with a deceptively sharp intellect who could reframe facts and issues in a way that lead to outrageous but for some people, compelling conclusions.

As the Chief Barrister, Tom Wilkinson provides a fascinatingly ambiguous character, a passionate advocate who can also appear cold-hearted. Wilkinson’s powerful and articulate performance is one his finest.

Denial is a rousing story about the critical fight to assert the truth when denial of that truth threatens to deprive people of their history and ultimately their humanity. It presents a case that is not only significant in itself but also has vital implications in the current political and cultural environment.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Biopic/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Mick Jackson.

Release date: 13th Apr 2017.

Running time: 109 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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