Based on the real life ‘Irving v Penguin Books’ case brought to the British courts at the turn of the millennium, ‘Denial’ is a film with freedom of speech and the truthful representation of history at its core. David Irving (Timothy Spall), an anti-Semitic historical author, sues Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an American historian, on the grounds that she libelled him in her book ‘Denying the Holocaust’ by asserting he was a Holocaust denier. To win the case it’s up to Lipstadt’s team to prove that The Holocaust occurred – an arduous task given the amount of evidence that was destroyed at the time – and thus demonstrate that Irving’s work is a purposeful distortion of fact.
As David Hare’s densely packed screenplay unfolds, we see Lipstadt and her British lawyers grapple with the challenge of factually proving The Holocaust without giving Irving a platform to further spread his ideology. Hare’s mass of dialogue is compelling, particularly in its humorous depictions of the very British quirks of Lipstadt’s lawyers. It doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the case and allows Spall to portray an annoyingly evil villain; his Irving has an absurd answer to everything and is delivered with an easy sense of conviction that makes even the most iron willed begin to question historical reality. Sadly, Weisz didn’t have as much to play with – a key part of the plot silences her for the entirety of the court hearing meaning, for good reason, we never get to see the film’s key protagonists go head to head. Instead, the bulk of Lipstadt’s character ark is delivered in her disdain for the British court system, or in her reactions as she runs around London past case related headlines on newspaper billboards – it’s tedious as times.
As a whole the film is very passive, it’s linear in nature and never really builds any tension; even the crux of the case isn’t presented in any sort of rousing speech. Rather, it’s delivered by the lawyer Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) whose distinctive calm demeanour has an inherent sense of authority but doesn’t do much to stir one’s emotions. That being said, Mick Jackson’s direction is simple; the words take centre stage and the case’s historic verdict ultimately speaks for itself.
Overall, ‘Denial’ is a more than adequate legal drama that delivers a highly relevant message for a modern audience – not all opinions hold equal weight or value. Freedom of speech doesn’t equate to a right to be believed. I give Denial a rating of 3.5/5.