Somehow in the Internet age when facts and details are more easily available than ever, the denial of reality has become more prevalent. How is that possible? A lie repeated often enough and forcefully enough still holds incredible power. One of the biggest lies frequently told by the truth-averse is that the Holocaust simply didn't happen. It was all made up as some kind of grand conspiracy to put Jews in a favorable social position. Or something. It seems crazy that anyone would have to actually set out to prove that the Holocaust really happened. That millions died as a result. It seems crazy that someone would have to go to a court of law to prove it, but that's what Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) did when she was sued by just such a denier in a case that would have far-reaching ramifications.
A trio of great performances and the strength of Lipstadt's fight for truth are what bolster Denial, a handsomely shot but labored courtroom drama from director Mick Jackson. Weisz, with her floppy red hair and New Yawk accent, plays the passionate Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University specializing in Jewish history and the Holocaust. In 1993 she wrote a book titled "Denying the Holocaust" and had some scathing passages about famed denier David Irving (Timothy Spall, as oily as his Wormtail character from Harry Potter), who considers himself a historian of some esteem. Mainly he's a carnival barker, prone to outrageous statements given to throngs of modern-day Nazis. He crashes a lecture given by Lipstadt in order to challenge her to a debate, which she refuses to deny legitimizing his outlandish claims. But Irving, after waving $1000 around with promises to give it to anyone who can prove the Holocaust real, uses that edited footage to bolster his side of the argument and diminish hers.
If that were the end of it maybe she could have brushed it off, which was her initial intent. But Irving filed a lawsuit against her and Penguin Publishing for libel, claiming the book ruined his peerless reputation. Worse, he filed it in the U.K. where the burden of proof is on the accused not the accuser. Basically you're guilty until proven innocent. It's a bold, skillful maneuver because now it's up to Lipstadt to not only prove the Holocaust occurred, but that Irving intentionally is denying the truth to suit his anti-Semitic views.
The drama isn't in the centerpiece courtroom battle, which is stagy and uncompelling, but in Lipstadt's struggle to maintain her composure during a legal process she rightfully deems a little absurd. It doesn't help that her legal representation are all perfectly polite Brits. Andrew Scott plays solicitor Andrew Julius, famous for representing Princess Diana during her divorce proceedings. He's a cool, reserved customer who challenges Lipstadt to stay on the sidelines and not testify, a request she sees as a betrayal to the Holocaust survivors who want their story told. But he assures her that the case isn't about the survivors, it's about cold hard facts, and the man delivering those facts is barrister Richard Hampton (Tom Wilkinson). Hampton, never too far away from a plastic cup of wine, tackles the case with a dispassion that upsets Lipstadt who believes fiery rhetoric is what's called for. A powerful scene between them takes place at Auschwitz where Lipstadt's emotions get the best of her while Hampton dutifully gathers evidence. The lack of overall tension is glaring, however, which may explain a couple of subplots introduced and quickly abandoned. One that emerges out of nowhere involves a member of Lipstadt's legal team being accused of not really wanting to practice law, only to have that plot point dropped never to be heard from again.
Weisz doesn't necessarily make the best fit as Lipstadt; her accent is off and she sort of fades into the background compared to Wilkinson and Spall. But she makes up for it with her gutsy portrayal that shows the respect she has for Lipstadt's fight. Wilkinson may have the least flashy performance of them all but it's the most well-rounded, while Spall plays Irving as a devious, untrustworthy, but ultimately brilliant man. He's not a moron; every word he says is carefully calculated, especially the things he knows to be untrue. Regardless of its issues, Denial is an important film that shows the fight against bigotry and hate can take many forms, but it must always be fought.
Rating: 3 out of 5