Denial review: Rachel Weisz goes on trial in this courtroom drama where she must provide evidence that the holocaust during World War II really happened.
Denial review by Paul Heath, Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
Playing at TIFF is another in a long line of true stories brought based on events from the recent past, this time from a libel action brought to London’s high courts
Based on the book ‘History On Trial: My Day In Court With A Holocaust Denier‘, Mick Jackson’s film revolves around a university professor named Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) who lands herself in a bit of hot water when she includes a World War II historian in her new book. Irving, here played by the excellent Timothy Spall, accuses her of libel and thus takes her to court where Lipstadt must go to great lengths to prove that the Holocaust from the second World War did indeed take place. She must do so because the burden of proof in English libel law lies with the accused, so she, and her publisher Penguin Books, hire Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), the hot-shot laywer who famously handled Princess Diana’s divorce just prior. Over the course of the film, the team battle against their confident whose controversial views capture a nation’s attention.
Also amongst the cast is Tom Wilkinson, whose Richard Rampton is also recruited into Lipstadt’s legal team, Mark Gatiss as Robert Jan van Pelt, one of the world’s leading experts on Auschwitz, and the supremely talented though always under-used Alex Jennings as the high-court judge presiding over the huge trial.
This event was one of those that slipped me by when it hit the headlines a decade or so ago. I’m ashamed to say it as it was so huge that it actually attracted attention from around the world, Lipstadt’s legal case gaining huge support from various groups and well-known individuals to protect the memory of one of the most defining, and indeed most horrific acts of the 20th century.
Mick Jackson‘s film is far from perfect. Despite containing some wonderful performances, particularly from Wilkinson, Scott and a very brave Timothy Spall, it sometimes feel more like a television drama and not a film to find in your local cine-plex. Its non-glossy approach works in terms of attempting to catch the grit and realness of the situation, but it suffers somewhat from its lack of production values in places. Sure there are some pretty well-written scenes – particularly the first meeting between Weisz’s Lipstadt and Scott’s forceful lawyer, pressing the author to settle prior to the trial. The film’s screenwriter, David Hare‘s talent shines through in plenty of other points during the movie – he is after all the man behind the likes of The Reader and The Hours, but its not quite enough to propel this forward into the realms of outstanding – which is a real shame.
Rachel Weisz herself is fine as the lead protagonist, but her forceful nature and bloody awful wig is slightly off-putting.
Denial broken down is a pretty standard legal drama with some quality performances which do elevate it to a decent enough status to intrigue the viewer and hold them throughout.
Denial review by Paul Heath, TIFF ’16.
Denial is released in the UK on 3rd February 2017.