Sunday, January 1, 2017

Video review: "Denial"

The British, while otherwise a fine people, have rather screwy libel laws. In the United Kingdom, when someone sues for libel, the onus is upon the accused to demonstrate the truth of their words, rather than the accuser to prove his or her claims. That’s the center of “Denial,” an Oscar-bait drama about an infamous Holocaust denier and the professor and team of lawyers who stood up to him.

In 1996 British historian sued American academic Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) for calling him a denier of the Holocaust in her book. He in turned sued her and her publisher, Penguin Books, in British court. The story follows Lipstadt as she navigates the byzantine peculiarities of English law. The net effect of the suit is that her team will have to prove that the Nazi regime murdered millions of Jews, and that Irving has deliberately distorted evidence in order to argue against this.

Timothy Spall gives a bravura performance as Irving, a charismatic man whom we almost feel sorry for, until the hateful words spill out of him like muck from a befouled spring. The odd thing about Irving, at least in his cinematic depiction, is that he’s a self-deluded charmer who thinks he can have it both ways: claiming that the German mass incinerators did not exist, for example, while also insisting he’s not a Hitler apologist.

Tom Wilkinson is the third leg of this story as Richard Rampton, the barrister who leads the case on Lipstadt’s behalf. A diffident man who seems to take great pains not to provide his client with any kind of comfort or emotional support, he nonetheless attacks the case with a sort of quiet ferocity.

Directed by Mick Jackson from a script by David Hare, “Denial” is a pretty straightforward (recent) historical drama, showing us a famous event and fleshing out the people and motivations that lay underneath it. There are few surprises, but the trio of performances by Weisz, Spall and Wilkinson are magnificent enough on their own to put this on your must-see list.

Bonus features are rather slim, limited to a theatrical trailer and a mini-documentary, “The Making of Denial.”



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