Review: Legal drama ‘Denial’ puts Holocaust on stand

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The Holocaust is put on trial in “Denial,” a legal drama based on a true story where the suspense is not in the verdict, but in the process of getting there.

Rachel Weisz is Deborah Lipstadt, an author sued for libel after writing a book about the Holocaust. The lawsuit is brought by David Irving (the wonderful, wonderful Timothy Spall), a pompous blowhard who lists Holocaust denier on his resume of absurd positions.

The suit is brought in British court, where the burden of proof is on the defense, meaning Lipstadt and her legal team (including Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott) must prove the Holocaust happened. It is not as easy as simply putting survivors on the stand; it comes down to the complexities of the law and the intricacy of language. It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Still, like “Sully,” “Denial” centers on a case where the outcome is already known. But David Hare’s screenplay (based on Lipstadt’s book) is smart and engaging, and veteran director Mick Jackson (“The Bodyguard”) treats the material with the heft it deserves.

Weisz struggles with her Queens accent but gives a finely tuned performance as a woman who must learn to accept the stern advice of others.

But it’s Spall who waltzes away with the film. His unrepentant, unapologetic Irving, repugnant though he may be, believes deeply in his own hate-filled views. He refuses to apologize, even when proven wrong, and Spall lends him an air of quiet sympathy.

His character bears similarities to a certain current political figure, making “Denial” feel ripped from today’s headlines, and even tomorrow’s.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

Twitter: @grahamorama

‘Denial’

GRADE: B

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and brief strong language

Running time: 110 minutes