Denial, directed by Mick Jackson, at its core has an extremely compelling story, one which had me completely engrossed in its journey and subsequent outcome. The film does struggle at times to keep everything cohesive – large jumps in time, and some shaky character portrayals, did leave me scrunching my brow in confusion. But ultimately, there is something wholly interesting and slightly addicting about seeing the films story play out. So let’s get onto the fuller review and see just how this film shapes up.
The film tells the true story of Deborah Lipstadt – portrayed by Rachel Weisz – who must defend against the idea that the Holocaust didn’t happen in a court of Law. David Irving – portrayed by Timothy Spall – is a holocaust denier, and now he is suing, Deborah Lipstadt for libel. It is his ultimate goal, to legitimise his beliefs and theories, and he wants to use both Deborah and the platform of the British court system to do that.
The thing that immediately drew me to this film was its subject. The idea that there are people who thought/think that the holocaust is a myth, and that they spend a large majority of their life’s work trying to discredit its existence, is fascinating (in the most sickening way of course). But specifically with this film it is the true story that it focuses on – of course a true story that you can’t at first believe happened, was what made watching this film so compelling. You can’t at first believe that, Deborah Lipstadt had to go to court and defend her accusations that, David Irving is a falsifier of facts and a liar, but as this films shows, she did.
What I think this resulted in was an eye-opening experience – not only from a moral standpoint, but also from an intrigue standpoint. The film raises questions that at first had me pondering them, and later it would present certain things that would begin to cause conflict within myself. This made for something that really engaged me, and made me feel like a part of the larger story.
But one of the other factors that are interesting is the people who found themselves involved in the court case. Though it is a true story, Denial is full of bigger than life characters. People who standout and don’t always line up with your expectation of the people who would have been working on this kind of case. Deborah Lipstadt is a perfect example of this: She was someone who I found it difficult to connect with, her brash, American ways often felt unnecessarily confrontational (though I suppose in the context of dealing with the British justice system, perhaps her brashness is fair) and so connecting with her on a personal level was never something I found myself able to do. She continually felt like a person who was at arm’s length, and no matter my attempts, I could not reach her. Still, from a narrative standpoint, she was someone who I absolutely wanted to see succeed.
Though there was something interesting that occurred in my brain when watching this film – something I was not expecting. I actually found myself wanting the film to have more of, David Irving in it. Our knowledge and understanding of Mr Irving doesn’t go much beyond that he is a Holocaust denier. I would have liked the film to have shown some of the other factors that made up his life; hobbies, likes, dislikes etc. Primarily the film gives us a surface level understanding of him and not much more. Which, oddly, is a shame; David Irving is someone who interests you because of how inappropriate and completely wrong he is. This is a man who grabs a shovel and starts digging a hole, via comments, statements and opinions which are completely wrong, and you almost just want to watch him do it. In a masochistic sort of way, it’s fun to watch him do it. So even though I will not be taking the time to explore any of his work (post film) I still would have liked to have had his presence in the film feel greater, that way when you’re watching him get torn a part in court, you have even more reasons to enjoy his verbal execution.
But what isn’t missing from the film (in terms of David Irving) is a brilliant performance by, Timothy Spall, who disappears into the role. The cadence of his voice, his subtle gestures and his unassuming presence in a scene, is clear to see. Spall seems like he really made the effort to pick up the mannerisms of the man he was portraying, and the time and work he put into it, shows.
In fact, a part from a slightly shaky performance from Rachel Weisz, I would say that the cast of actors in this film do a great job of bringing individual elements that make them standout as people and not just characters in a script.
There was an issue however, when the story and the characters are concerned. That being that the story itself covers such a large span of time. The film isn’t afraid to jump years at a time and then just throw up the date in the bottom left hand corner of the screen, and then without the full necessary context for where things are in relation to one another, we are expected to just adjust and keep up. For me, this at times made it difficult to fully connect or understand some of the more integral characters, and it also left me a little lost at times, in terms of the narrative. I understand that they had to do it; I just feel it could have been handled better.
In the end though, everything is leading to the third act and the court case that could literally change how history is understood and presented. It is here that the film truly shines; particular characters really come to life – Richard Rampton, portrayed by Tom Wilkinson – being a perfect example. And the story becomes completely addicting and wholly encompassing. Watching it play out and hearing all the evidence presented (from both sides of the aisle) is really interesting to watch. And it all culminates in such a fulfilling way. I feel that both the plot and the characters get wrapped up in a way that feels deserved and satisfying. The ending is a great example of showing how the film took the time to build (nearly) everything in a way that was completely gratifying.
So I will be recommending, Denial. A film that certainly gets the brain cells firing, and informs you upon a story that has perhaps been lost to time. And so if you can find some time, I would say this film is worth checking out.
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