Based on the events surrounding the Irving Vs Penguin Books court case of 1995, Rachel Weisz plays Deborah Lipstadt, a historian sued for libel by David Irving (Spall). In her book Denying The Holocaust, she labels Irving as a 'holocaust denier' and Irving, defending himself, wastes no time in taking the case to court. Lipstadt's publisher Penguin Books step in with Andrew Scott's celebrity solicitor Anthony Julius and Tom Wilkinson's Richard Rampton as barrister employed to defend her…
What Denial likes to get tucked into highlighting the differences between the British and American judicial systems, with Weisz/the audience aghast that in the UK it's up to the sued to prove their claim/innocence; the day-to-day trial prep sounds like a dramatic bore but it oddly remains fascinating. As the story moves from the libel claim into the ins-and-outs of the holocaust debate, Denial engages even further as Irving's theories (like his claim that inmates were not gassed at Auschwitz) are explored in depth. The cast are in fine form with Wilkinson doing his serious thing and Spall at his hangdog, squinty-eyed best.
But the issue is that no one has a lot to do. Characters aren't challenged: Weisz's Lipstadt is never going to change her mind ("I don’t debate fact.") and Spall's Irving is not for turning - they start out with different takes on history and end up with the very same opinions. Increasingly frustrated as her legal team's tactics diminish her role (she's not even allowed to testify much to her chagrin), Weisz's Lipstadt is reduced to an observer, called upon for an angry jog or to shake her head in disbelief at Spall’s claims. There is a moment where the story could have offered more for Lipstadt to do – she is put under pressure to convince her legal team to put survivors on the stand, a move the team reckon would be disastrous as it would allow the survivors to be cross examined by Irving and legitimise his claim – but this doesn’t come to fruition.
Director Mick Jackson, who had a moment in the nineties with L.A. Story, The Bodyguard and Volcano before returning to TV, adopts a point-and-shoot style, letting David Hare’s (The Hours, The Reader) script, who keeps proceedings lively despite the sombre atmosphere, and his actors do the heavy lifting.
Review by Gavin Burke | 12:38 | Wednesday 11th January 2017 | Movie Review