Sometimes all talk and no action can be for the best. Such is the case with Denial, the star-studded British/American drama based on historian Deborah E. Lipstadt’s memoir History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier (2005) that recounts her experiences with the British legal system following a libel suit that was raised against her and the publishers of her first book, Denying the Holocaust (1993), by David Irving.
Following professor Lipstadt and her legal team from the time Irving brought the charges forward in 1996 until the close of the case in 2000, Denial attempts to walk the line between factual and humanizing. After Irving sued Lipstadt for libel on the grounds that she had called him a Holocaust denier in her book, the peculiarities of the British legal system meant that the burden of proof fell on Lipstadt and her publisher to prove that the Holocaust actually took place and that Deborah’s acusations of Irving were true.
Though the film has a tendency to edge toward being cheesy and contrived, particularly when it is trying to explore the more emotional side of the events that took place, it is armed with a cast of proven talent that is more than capable of saving the sometimes weak script (Rachel Weisz [The Constant Gardener, About a Boy] as Lipstadt; Tom Wilkinson [In the Bedroom, Michael Clayton] as Lipstadt’s lawyer, Richard Rampton; and Timothy Spall [the Harry Potter franchise, Mr. Turner, The King’s Speech] as Irving. Still, it is hard to ignore the fact that Denial is at its best when it is sifting through the details of the case and the particulars of the legal strategies implemented by the lawyers chosen to represent Lipstadt and her publishers. As Rampton says partway through the film regarding a visit to the concentration camp at Auschwitz: “This isn’t about memorializing, it is about forensics.”
Denial isn’t the kind of film that is made very often these days, and while there are some moments that lean more toward contrivance then sincerity, it makes a nice change from the usual flashy, big budget Hollywood productions that audiences are used to. While the endless chatter and detailed exposition regarding the intricacies of the British legal system won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, those who appreciate a film that presents complex moral and judicial issues without talking down to its audience will find Denial to be a refreshing viewing.
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