Friday, 20 January 2017

Denial

There’s nothing flashy about this film, yet it seethes with legal anger and intellect

Written by Jason Solomons


Denial receives a UK release to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, which serves to emphasise the film’s monumental importance. Oddly but interestingly, everything else about it is spectacularly downplayed.

Starring Rachel Weisz as American academic Deborah Lipstadt, the film is a rare beast indeed that denies its leading lady a star turn. Yet that’s exactly what David Hare’s adaption leads up to, Weisz’s Lipstadt being told to ‘button her lip’ in court. Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

This is, of course, for the big showdown with British historian David Irving, who sues Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier. Hare uses the real-life court transcripts to recreate the final act verbatim, and the film leaves us in no doubt as to what is at stake.

Nor does Timothy Spall’s skin-crawling performance as Irving give us any room to deny the man’s vile arrogance, or his dangerous, hawkish intellect. There’s a wonderful moment right near the end when Tom Wilkinson, playing Richard Rampton QC, refuses to shake Irving’s hand – Wilkinson does it with such a look of nose-curling disdain, as if the proffered hand were riddled with leprosy and smelling of hippo dung.

Director Mick Jackson delivers the movie with a clipped, perfunctory realism, as if he were trying to stick to the facts like a good lawyer rather than an inspired film-maker. To a certain extent it’s a successful tactic, allowing Wilkinson’s rampton to steal the show with his Inns of Court eccentricities, such as curled sandwiches and claret in plastic cups.

Andrew Scott’s Anthony Julius gets little room to show his flair while Weisz’s role – one which initially promises much – eventually mainly consists of jogging across Westminster Bridge and sitting tight on a hard court bench.

Rampton’s decision to deny Lipstadt her moment in court proves to be his stroke of genius. So too, the idea to deny any platform to Holocaust survivors, for fear that Irving, in his ardour to exonerate Hitler, would make mincemeat of their traumatic recollections of conditions and the exact layout of Auschwitz.

A more Hollywood movie would have torn up the facts and given the Holocaust its big moment. But Denial is well named – it is the very act of self-denial which allows Irving’s big denial to be defeated. We want to boo him, throw fruit – but Rampton is right here: Irving’s defeat has tarnished him far worse in real life and established Holocaust denial as both morally reprehensible yet sadly relevant.

So watching Denial requires patience. There’s nothing flashy about it yet it seethes with legal anger and intellect. Weisz is, as ever, impressive in a role that requires her to reign in her show- stopping tendencies. I’m sure she was thinking of Baftas and Oscars when the project began, but the film’s biggest accolade is in further cementing the insidious evil of people like Irving and their malevolent claims in a post- truth world. This is a crucial, vital film, told in a very quiet and measured fashion. But the result is the right one in the end.



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