A famous trial about Holocaust denial has been turned into a legal thriller, thanks to the astute screenplay adaptation by David Hare and the incisive direction by Mick Jackson. Add to the mix an impassioned performance by Rachel Weisz in “Denial,” shown at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and now in commercial release.
Headlines were made by Holocaust denier David Irving when in 1996 he sued American professor and author Deborah Lipstadt (Weisz) and Penguin Books LTD. for libel for what she had to say about him in her Penguin-published book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” The suit was in the U.K., where the law in such a case demands that the accused prove innocence.
Weisz’s role here is much different than the steamy kind she sometimes plays. Here the British star is a perky, principled American professor determined to triumph over her adversary, but very innocent in the ways of the law and constantly astonished at the situation she is in, with her as the defendant sued by someone of Irving’s ilk. She is introduced into the legal process at work and is agog at the strategy she must follow.
There are excellent performances by Andrew Scott as solicitor Anthony Julius and by Tom Wilkinson as barrister Richard Rampton, who handles the court arguments for Lipstadt and Penguin. Important to the film is having a convincing villain, and Timothy Spall makes a first-rate villain as Irving, who arrogantly believes he is right and ardently stands his own ground.
The legal points on which the case turns are fascinating, and although one can look up the verdict if one doesn’t already know the case, it is best to go with the film and enjoy the suspense and tune in to the anxiety that the professor/author feels about what can happen.
The issue, of course, is larger than the reputation of Lipstadt and what exists of the reputation of Irving. The correct knowledge of history and of the Holocaust is at stake, as well as the fight back against anti-Semitism and the denial of what happened to six million Jews in Hitler’s onslaught. Thus “Denial” is a valuable film as well as a thoroughly engrossing one. A Bleecker Street release. Reviewed September 30, 2016.