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‘Denial’ (review)

denial_movie_poster_p_2016Produced by Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff
Screenplay by David Hare
Based on History on Trial: My Day in Court
with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah Lipstadt
Directed by Mick Jackson
Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson,
Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden,
Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings

Denial is based on the true story of Deborah Lipstadt, an American/Jewish historian and author of Denying the Holocaust.

Lipstadt is propelled from the small circles of academia into the media spotlight when the revisionist historian David Irving brings a highly publicized lawsuit against Lipstadt for libel; claiming her denouncement of him as a revisionist is unjust because he believes the Holocaust never happened.

Because Irving brought the case against Lipstadt in the British courts, the burden of proof falls to Lipstadt and her legal counsel to prove that the Holocaust did happen.

Director Mick Jackson makes what could be a by-the-numbers courtroom drama into an introspective look what makes a person stand up for what is right and setting aside one’s own personal desires for the greater good.  The fiery Lipstadt is forced to fight the self-aggrandising Irving in ways that go against her own instincts, causing her to question what really is truly the end goal of her case. The film also looks at the very real danger of how people’s views of history can change given enough time and distance, and how complacence is a slippery road.

Rachel Weisz is solid as the indomitable Deborah Lipstadt,  whose journey as an American bucking the English legal system runs dangerously close to being a caricature of a Jewish woman from Queens, but never runs over the line.

Timothy Spall’s Irving is the antagonist that you love to hate.  With each smarmy smile, you hope and pray that the slimy jerk will get what’s due to him in the end.  As entertaining as the top bill actors are, it is the supporting cast that pulls you in.  Andrew Scott plays Anthony Julius, the high profile lawyer who proves to have greater motivations than his own publicity.

Tom Wilkinson is masterful as  Richard Rampton, Lipstadt’s Barrister.  The haphazard ease with which he goes about his daily life disarms the viewer for his sharp, verbal fencing in the courtroom.If you have watched a great deal of BBC programing, you will catch a number of gem characters coloring the background.

The writing is of a caliber that is expected of a BBC production.  David Hare did a fair job of adapting Deborah Lipstadt book into a compelling film. The most chilling scene in the film is the visit to Auschwitz. Stark cinematography is paired with silence, letting the location tell it’s story own it’s own.  No exaggerated camera work, no swelling music score to manipulate the audience.  Director Mick Jackson gives you the space to share the experience with Lipstadt as she visits the camp.  It is one of the most powerful moments in the film.

Denial comes across as more than the beginning of the season for Oscar films. Film, like all art, has many purposes.  Entertainment is certainly it’s most obvious purpose, but film has a long tradition of being a vehicle for  making political statements.  It is interesting to see the release of a film like Denial at a time when the world is so politically fractured. It reminds us of the danger of forgetting our history.

As is often said, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”  The filmmakers of Denial couldn’t have picked a better time to share Lipstadt’s story with us.

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