Starring: Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tim Wilkinson
Director: Mick Jackson
Running Time: 110 mins
Denial is a British film about the true story of the case of David Irving v Penguin Books Ltd and Deborah Lipstadt, where a Holocaust scholar was brought before court in the United Kingdom accused of libel of a fervent Holocaust denier, bringing the history of the Holocaust under deep scrutiny.
The great thing about this film is that it covers a variety of genres. At times it’s a solid biographical piece, at times it’s a brilliant courtroom thriller, and at others it’s a fiercely intriguing and impactful piece that presents a topic not unfamiliar to Hollywood in a different way, injecting strong passion right the way through that makes the film a thoroughly engrossing watch.
First off, let’s talk about the subject at the centre of attention here. The Holocaust is a topic that comes up regularly in Hollywood movies, and for good reason, however there’s no denying the fact that it has become overused to a degree in cheesy Oscar bait pieces that don’t really get to the crux of why it’s so important to show the horrors of one of the worst tragedies in human history.
Denial, however, brings focus to the topic from a different angle. As the story takes place in what is effectively modern day, and centres on how people from the current time period perceive the Holocaust, it manages to bring to light the reality that there is opposition to a fact that a large majority of the world takes fully for granted.
That’s what intrigued me most about this film. As a courtroom drama, it plays out brilliantly, effectively engrossing you with its exciting legalese and deep historiographical complexities, but at the centre of that story is a powerful portrayal of how something that may seem to so many as a completely ‘settled’ history still needs to be brought to light again and again, as taking it for granted can lead to a growth in opposition that can spiral out of control.
What’s more, however, is that while the film manages to prove a deeply engrossing and powerful portrayal of the importance of fighting Holocaust denial, it also manages to bring in a riveting portrayal of the historiography of the Holocaust over the years since 1945. The courtroom scenes are by far the film’s strongest suit, with engrossing sparring matches between Tom Wilkinson’s seasoned lawyer and Timothy Spall, who plays the Holocaust denier David Irving, and incredibly deep analysis of the way in which history is written and picked through in the years after the fact, something that I’ve never seen another film focus on and pull off in such enthralling fashion.
I could have watched those courtroom scenes all day long, but they’re not all that there is to this film. For one, the story centres on Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar who was brought before caught by David Irving for libel after she attacked his works that denied the existence of the Holocaust. Played by Rachel Weisz, she’s a fiery and passionate character who is built well in the film’s first act, and does a fantastic job to bring that passion into proceedings right from the start, helping to fully engross you in the enormous stakes of the case that is portrayed in the film’s latter stages.
With that being said, I will say that while the character of Lipstadt is integral to the film, there are elements of her story arc that feel often a little melodramatic. In the courtroom and when working as a part of the legal team, she’s a strong and relatable character, but there are moments when the story shifts focus to see her in a more personal light, and those moments really feel out of place in what is otherwise a very strong fact-driven biography, getting a little too bogged down in rather melodramatically portrayed emotion that just doesn’t do the truth of the woman’s passion justice.
Overall, I was fascinated by Denial. Taking on a difficult topic with a different perspective and different stakes, this isn’t the sort of Oscar bait that you may have come to expect over the years, and with a collection of strong performances, riveting drama and legal thrills, and a stunning portrayal of the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, it’s a powerful and riveting watch, which is why I’m giving it a 7.6.