“More women died on the back seat of Senator Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.” –David Irving.
The story I’m about to review is true. The original participants have been replaced by professional actors and their eloquent words have been supplied by Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader).
Stung by criticism in Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s (Rachel Weisz, The Lovely Bones) book Denying the Holocaust, British author and shameless self-promoter David Irving (Timothy Spall, The King’s Speech) files a libel suit in London’s High Court against Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, charging that they “are part of a concerted worldwide conspiracy to rob him of his reputation as a professional historian and thereby his livelihood.”
Settling out of court is no option for Lipstadt–a feisty, American-born Jew that finds the concept of Holocaust denial so appallingly absurd that she refuses even to debate deniers, lest she be found guilty of giving them credence–who eagerly picks up the gauntlet and agrees to fight.
I know, I know–another courtroom drama, right?
But Denial cleverly avoids the standard histrionics, focusing instead upon strategy and even then, not so much on the strategy of the prosecution vs. the defense, but more interestingly, on the conflicting strategies between the client and her counsel, including solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott, Sherlock), who prepares the defense’s case, and barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) who presents it to the court.
A good case can be made that journeyman director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard, Temple Grandin) merely skims the surface of this tale, essentially packing a seven year process into a little over an hour and a half and keeping things much tidier than reality would allow. But what’s presented here is first rate, from the top on down.
Though she’s already established herself as a first-rate actress–nabbing an Oscar for The Constant Gardener in 2006–Weisz outdoes herself here as the nervy and frequently strident New Yorker; a woman so hell-bent on crying for justice that her shrill delivery often threatens to deafen even the most sympathetic ears. Spall triumphs in an equally tricky role, establishing Irving as undeniably entertaining and sardonic, without diluting his malevolence by one drop. As for Wilkinson? If the man’s ever hit a wrong note on screen, it’s news to me, and he’s perfectly on pitch here.
Universal brings this stylish film to home theaters in high style, with a spotless 2.40:1/1080p Blu-ray transfer and an equally sturdy 5.1 DTS-Master Audio sound track. Bonus features are skimpy: a look at the theatrical trailer, and a brief (as in under four minutes) Making of featurette that benefits from an appearance by the real Deborah Lipstadt, but suffers from exhibiting basically the same clips you get in the trailer. On the other hand, the set comes with DVD and a Digital HD copies, so presumably, you’ll almost never have to be without it again.
Yes, it’s fair to call Denial a primer on–as opposed to the definitive telling of–a historical event, but it’s a first-rate primer that may actually inspire you to dig further into the truth.