Here lies a film that, in theory, couldn’t be more perfectly timed. It’s about a trial where the right to distort nearly won, and a man whose volume and potential to do so did as well, crumbled by false David and Goliath politics. Sound familiar? The makers of Denial couldn’t have anticipated the events of the last six or so months (who could have), and how real this could’ve become, featured on daily news. However, one could see the sentiments that caused those certain events filtering down. It’s the same sweep surrounding the trial that the film recounts, that of Irving v Penguin Books, where author and Holocaust denier David Irving (played here by Timothy Spall) sued historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) for libel. This left Lipstadt and her defense to do the unthinkable and have to prove the obvious – that the Holocaust happened beyond the doubt of any reasonable historian, which Irving was therefore not and falsified records as a result. It’s a story from today’s news – how do you prove something that was erased? How does Lipstadt compete with the unstoppable sweep around her, where Irving appears at one of her lectures to debate her and then hand out copies of his book for free? “This is going to give him a new lease of life,” she says. It’s a film about truth, decency, and the terrifying fragility of when it may be destroyed, the floodgates opened. Director Mick Jackson treats the material with appropriate reverence, but the film often feels too restrained to become dramatically compelling or imbued with the type of cautionary anger it should. Initial scenes occur in 1994, before acclaimed playwright David Hare’s screenplay jumps two years to when Irving filed his suit and then another two to the trial, chopping between time and locations as Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier does. The film frequently feels like a plainly constructed historical novel, emotions and actions writ extremely large. When the trial finally comes, it’s mostly verbatim from reality, Hare using the records to script the scenes. But there’s no bite, no fury in Lipstadt’s team that these instances return, the signs ignored each time. “You wipe it off. You don’t study it,” her lawyer Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) says. Denial says that Julius is correct, moving on and not considering what came before. The question it should be asking, however, is the opposite. What if we did?

 

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