DIR: Mick Jackson • WRI: David Hare • PRO: Gary Foster, Marta Habior, Russ Krasnoff • DOP: Haris Zambarloukos • ED: Justine Wright • DES: Andrew McAlpine • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall
Denial is a great example of how a terrific cast can elevate material. Essentially a four-hander, the true-life film stars Rachel Weisz as Deborah E. Lipstadt – a Jewish-American professor in Holocaust studies who in 1993 published “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”. The book examined and condemned its titular action, taking aim at David Irving (Timothy Spall) – a historian with a neo-Nazi following who argued Jewish people were not murdered at Auschwitz. Angered by her insults, Irving sues Lipstadt for libel. Yet, events escalate further as the plaintiff is English and in British Law, the burden of proof lies with the accused. Weisz’s character, along with her legal team, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), must prove that the Holocaust did indeed happen.
The script by famed playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Hare (Damage, The Hours) is undeniably strong – making parallels between the notorious Irving and Trump – both are men who use hate-filled ramblings backed-up with flawed evidence to achieve fame. Yet, what really brings Hare’s words to life are the performances by the main four which are note perfect. Weisz, working with a Queens accent, manages to avoid falling into a Woody Allen-esque stereotypical portrayal of a Jewish New Yorker, while also capturing her character’s ferocity and emotional vulnerability convincingly.
Meanwhile, Spall is absolutely enthralling whenever he is on-screen. At one point, two members of Julius’ legal team (Caren Pistorius and Jack Lowden, the former of which I wanted more of) note how Irving is just as charismatic as he is slimy – a trait Spall manages to convey effortlessly. A minor flaw of the film is that the actor’s most juicy material occurs in Denial’s first half, as the latter predominately focuses on Lipstadt and her legal team. Personally, I’d loved to have seen more of Irving’s side of the story or personal life. However, this is a thought that emerges in hindsight after-viewing as when Scott and Wilkinson are on-screen, it’s like being in safe hands. The Sherlock actor, known predominately for playing villains, shines in his uptight, stiff-upper lip but ultimately kind-hearted role, while Wilkinson manages to be both a hot-bed of intensity and a warm venerable figure.
Directed by workman filmmaker Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard), Denial isn’t overtly cinematic. There are little to no stylish flourishes leaving the movie feeling a lot like a BBC TV film – a sensation not helped by the fact that both Weisz and Hare collaborated on Page Eight. Yet, for fans of courtroom dramas or people who just enjoy seeing great character actors sink their teeth into a meaty script, Denial is more than worth the price of admission.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Denial is released 27th January 2017