Denial is bold in crafting a fictionalised Deborah Lipstadt who isn’t always easy to like; Weisz is fierce and prickly and at times almost unrecognisable. It’s a far cry from the tedious tear-jerking of her performance in The Light Between Oceans and a reminder of her true potential.
Denial sometimes seems confused as to the crux of the legal battle, and this hinders the clarity of its dramatisation. The film is, however, impressive in its dignified and academically distanced respect for Holocaust victims and survivors. Reflecting the stance its lawyer characters must take, Denial makes no clichéd appeals to the heartstrings, instead emphasising the procedural discrediting of denier David Irving (Spall, who has just one facial expression throughout). Weisz’s Lipstadt provides a more emotional foil, often voicing what will surely be the qualms of some audience members.
Despite pulling off this delicate balance, Hare fleshes out the screenplay with crude stereotype-perpetuating commentary on the differences between American and British culture, and these even play into lazily repetitive establishing shots (it’s always raining in London). Nikki Amuka-Bird, so accomplished in the BBC’s NW, is wasted in a cookie-cutter supporting role, yet Caren Pistorius once again proves she’s an actress to watch.
There are some lyrically beautiful shots of the ruins at Auschwitz, coated in the permafrost of a fittingly bleak Polish winter. Cinematography and mise en scène become slightly stylised, offering a hint of what the film could have been had director Mick Jackson strayed more adventurously from a paint-by-numbers formula.
With an unyielding and patience-demanding evenness of pace, Denial, despite its Outstanding British Film nod from BAFTA, is a disappointingly conventional courtroom drama. Inconsistent acting quality and an underdeveloped script which mishandles narrative complexity hold back the story’s full power.
CAST: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott
DIRECTOR: Mick Jackson
WRITERS: David Hare (screenplay), Deborah Lipstadt (author of the book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier)
SYNOPSIS: Acclaimed writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt must battle for historical truth to prove the Holocaust actually occurred when David Irving, a renowned denier, sues her for libel.