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Running Time:
1 hr. 50 min

Rating: PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.

Rating Explanation:
for thematic material and brief strong language

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
Even though the courtroom debate at the heart of this drama is more about forensics than emotions, that theme pervades the film so much that it often feels more clinical than involving.

Additional Info:
Rachel Weisz ... Deborah Lipstadt
Tom Wilkinson ... Richard Rampton
Timothy Spall ... David Irving
Andrew Scott ... Anthony Julius
Jack Lowden ... James Libson
Caren Pistorius ... Laura Tyler
Alex Jennings ... Sir Charles Gray
Harriet Walter ... Vera Reich
Mark Gatiss ... Professor van der Pelt
John Sessions ... Prof. Richard Evans
Nikki Amuka-Bird ... Libby Holbrook
Pip Carter ... Anthony Forbes-Watson

In 1996, to her great surprise, the American Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) found herself sued by the British war historian and notorious Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) because, she had called him a liar.

Denial is a movie about what ensued when Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, refused to settle out of court. Settlement was a course of action that would have revolted the feisty Lipstadt but which many counselled because it would have deprived Irving of a platform from which to expound his noxious theories. According to this account, celebrity solicitor Anthony Julius () was determined that Lipstadt would win in a trial that would still somehow manage to deny Irving the public hearing he so craved.

In effect, the problem of the case is also the problem of the film: Julius, and barrister Richard Rampton () , resolved to make the trial as low-key and unsensational as possible. They adamantly refused to put survivors in the witness box where Irving might mock them or point to inconsistencies in their recollections of events more than 50 years in the past. They never called Lipstadt herself to the stand. So, this is a Holocaust-denial drama in which no survivor testifies and the outraged crusader for justice is told to keep quiet.

Denied the easy theatrics of a standard-issue courtroom drama, Denial dwells instead on Julius’s preparation for the trial, Lipstadt’s warming relationship with the redoubtable Rampton and her surprised initiation into the vagaries of the British legal system where Julius the solicitor takes the case but Rampton the barrister must actually argue it in court. This approach to the story works only because Denial rejoices in a particularly clever screenwriter – playwright David Hare, that master of British political machinations, working from Lipstadt’s own memoir – and a superb British cast directed by Mick Jackson (the TV film Temple Grandin).

The film starts by dramatizing the differences between libel law in the United States and in Britain, where the burden of proof rests with the defendant (as it does in Canada too). In an early scene, Julius explains to Lipstadt that Irving has sued in a British court because the onus will be on her to show that he is a liar. She sees this as bitterly unfair; he’s the one who sued her, after all. Surely it is up to him to prove she’s wrong. “Not in the U.K.,” Andrew Scott’s Julius sniffs in one of the actor’s many admirable moments crafting an intriguing figure with a sharp and sometimes intolerant intellect and a personality not entirely free from self-satisfaction. After all, this is the lawyer who got Diana, the Princess of Wales, her divorce.

The real foundation of the film’s approach to its story is built by and Tom Wilkinson, playing Lipstadt’s wily lawyers. As the quietly powerful Rampton, Wilkinson gradually reveals the man’s humanity, carefully building up the bond with Lipstadt, who comes to realize that his cerebral cool is exactly what is needed in the courtroom. The scenes where these unlikely comrades, the subtle British barrister and the outspoken American academic, awkwardly visit Auschwitz together, her in sorrow, him in forensics mode, are particularly effective – although the decision to occasionally add faint images of people walking down the steps to the gas chambers is completely unnecessary.

So, too, is the one Holocaust survivor who accosts Lipstadt in the halls of the courthouse demanding to know why the survivors have not been asked to testify. Lipstadt promises her the voice of suffering will be heard, but it proves a rather hollow promise as the courtroom – and the movie’s audience – is then subjected to a mind-numbing discussion about the engineering of what Irving maintains were only delousing chambers.

The eventual winner in a case that some felt was an assault on Irving’s right to free speech was not a forgone conclusion and Denial cannot depend on an easy and rousing victory in the courtroom. It is a particularly difficult and complex case to dramatize and this clever film with its impressive cast mainly succeeds.

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