Review: ‘Denial’ Is An Undeniably Faithful Adaption

Ari Howorth ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

It’s hard to fathom that in the age of endless access to information, there are still those who can rebuff what is academically universally established to be true. These people exist, and when left unaddressed by fact checkers and esteemed historians, their influence can truly be dangerous.

Such is the focus of Mick Jackson’s Denial, which recounts the true story of the early 2000’s trial of David Irving v Penguin Books Ltd. and Deborah Lipstadt. Irving (a disgustingly riveting Timothy Spall) is an established military historian and in the 90’s was the the face of Holocaust denial. He files the libel suit against Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) a teacher and activist against Holocaust denial who, on account of the British legal system, must prove Irving’s guilt rather than defend her own innocence. The trial becomes not about the libel, but rather about proving the existence of the Holocaust and then proving that Irving deliberately manipulated that information to reflect his bigoted views.

Tom Wilkinson and Rachel Weisz in Denial. Photo Credit: Bleecker Street Media

The film needs to be addressed in two parts: the story and the film. What will attract most viewers is the sheer amazement to those unfamiliar with the story that this was something that occurred—so recently, no less. It is for this reason that the film is at it’s best when it is telling the story that is of historical record. Though dull at times, the actual trial and preparation for the trial is thrilling. Watching some of England’s best lawyers dig to find logical evidence that the Holocaust occurred, with the realization that this is a true story (and that all dialogue in the actual trial is word for word what transpired) is truly captivating.

With this, however, comes the fact that the film does fall short outside of what can be googled. In the “behind the scenes” more personal scenes, the film simply doesn’t land. The lawyer team (which seems to be ever-growing?) is constructed of character shells, with the exception of Tom Wilkinson’s Richard Rampton, who’s complex of coldness and professionalism for a topic that is so emotional and to no one’s surprise hits him deep down is an interesting one, however it is not given the screentime to develop. There is but one scene in which we see the more sensitive side of this character and outside of that he is nose deep in his research or speaking professionally in the courtroom.

Timothy Spall in Denial. Photo Credit: Bleecker Street Media

Lipstadt is given the focus that Rampton is not, yet her character fails to connect. While it is clear that she couldn’t be more invested in the case – she had, at the point of the case authored the most prominent text on Holocaust deniers, Lipstadt often falls victim to corny writing and character clichés. Weisz portrays her honestly to the writing, and probably to the woman herself, and the emotional heft is present, but that can’t save her character. It serves as no help to her that her character doesn’t speak in the trial scenes – even if this is true to the actual events.

Ultimately, it is difficult to criticize a film that so truthfully brings to light a story that needs to be told. At the end of the day, the fim tells the story of the libel suit in a mature, respectful manner. It only falters when it strays from the main story for characterization, but the meat of film is well-intentioned. The shame is that the majority of the audiences seeing Denial are already going to be familiar with the story. That shouldn’t be the case, because Holocaust deniers are out there. This did happen and it is still happening.

Overall Grade: B

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