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article imageReview: ‘Denial’s need for balance short changes more interesting story Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 8, 2016 in Entertainment
‘Denial’ is a methodical courtroom drama that deliberates the importance of truth in all realms and the limits of free speech in the same spheres.
The beliefs someone holds in large part instructs who they are, what they do and how they treat others. Yet one’s opinion cannot change fact; it can inspire investigation and debate, but reality remains. To purposely alter the truth and manipulate evidence to support one’s views is equal to lying. Alternatively, one can ignore actualities — put their head in the sand, as it were — and simply reject contrary ideas, holding steadfastly to their own. In Denial, a man who contends the Holocaust didn’t happen tests his theory in court.
In Deborah Lipstadt’s (Rachel Weisz) book, “Denying the Holocaust,” she claims that David Irving (Timothy Spall), a notorious Holocaust denier, falsified information to support his views in published works he deems to be historically accurate. As a result, he launches a suit against her and her publisher, Penguin Books, in the UK. The catch is as the defendant in a libel case, she’s required to prove what she said is true instead of him showing it’s false, as would be the case in the U.S. system. In other words, she’s guilty until proven innocent. While Irving looks forward to humiliating her and spouting his doctrine to a larger audience, there are greater things at stake for Lipstadt — namely the significance of the loss for all the victims of the Holocaust, which is a heavy weight she bears for the entirety of the trial.
The 110-minute picture covers approximately five years of activity, from the first public confrontation between Lipstadt and Irving to the final verdict. No doubt this is a lot of ground to cover in such a short period, demanding filmmakers be selective in the events depicted on the screen. However, in some cases, squeezing so much into so little time cannot possibly do justice to the original narrative. In this instance, there’s a need to portray occurrences inside and outside the courtroom; however, the former is by far the more interesting aspect of the film. While the movie endeavours to illustrate Lipstadt’s personal struggle with the trial and defense strategy — to prove Irving is a liar and anti-Semite rather than the Holocaust actually occurred — it’s the scenes inside the courtroom that are the most fascinating. Watching Lipstadt’s attorney, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), bury Irving in facts contrary to what he’s stated to be true, question his interpretation of the data and raise uncertainty regarding his motivations are absolutely the most compelling aspects of the picture. For this reason, one has to wonder if a miniseries that could have represented more than just one of Irving’s 35 “mistakes” presented in court would have been a more appropriate format.
In spite of Weisz’s character being the key defendant, the film belongs to Spall and Wilkinson. Irving is designed to be the brighter shining star, able to capture a room and deliver catchy one-liners that make great headlines in spite of their derogatory nature. Spall captures everything that is boisterous and despicable about Irving, from his energetic, racist speeches to his unapologetic persona to his massive ego (which plays a key and amusing role in the direction of the case). Wilkinson’s Rampton is his polar opposite. Exceptionally composed, he speaks very deliberately and skillfully refuses to engage in any shenanigans that would further Irving’s agenda. As the two men verbally spar in the courtroom, Lipstadt is usually struggling to sit quietly while she watches the proceedings and occasionally gives a worried or satisfied glance at her legal team. Outside of the courtroom, she passionately debates the significance of the trial, disagrees with her defence team and empathizes with survivors of the Holocaust.
As mentioned, the rationale of Irving’s denial and the well-constructed defense are the most interesting aspects of the film; but so much time is skipped over in order to fit the story into the comparatively brief runtime, audiences are barely provided an overview of the real-life events, which is unfortunate since there seems to be a more captivating tale in the unseen parts of the narrative.
Director: Mick Jackson
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall
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