Timothy Spall plays the odious David Irving – infamous holocaust denier – in a dramatization of the court case that ensued after Irving accused Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) of slandering him in her new book. Lipstadt must then defend her words against him by proving in court that Irving is a lying. Or rather Tom Wilkinson as her lawyer must prove this, for Lipstadt is not allowed to testify herself.
Denial as a subject and here a movie has just recently become achingly relevant. In a time of alternative facts, a movie about taking on a falsifier of history like Irving takes a wholly new and poignant edge. It’s a film about making people accountable for their lies – something we could really do with right now to be honest.
Politics aside as a film Denial faces a bit of a challenge. The story it tells isn’t necessarily very cinematic and because the main character of the case (other than Irving) was not able to speak during the actual court scenes there arises the difficult task of keeping the film rooted to a strong protagonist. These are two challenges I think the film for the most part tackles. It has to be said that by the end really Tom Wilkinson and Rachel Weisz probably share the role of protagonist. But the film always manages to show the events from Weisz’ perspective and this is important. And while obviously it isn’t a cinematic extravaganza that you simply must see on the big screen, it is cinematic enough so that it looks like a film. Not a TV movie, or a tv series.
The other big challenge is how to represent David Irving. It’s the balance of showing him to be the truly evil man that he is, whilst not rendering him two dimensional. It’s capturing his undeniable charisma when on camera, and his cold dead eyes when the camera moves away. Tim Spall of course absolutely nails this. Cinema’s most underrated actor delivers another incredible performance unlike any of his others. A scene with just him and his child is so perfectly unsettling it gears you up for everything about his character that is to follow.
I also really enjoyed how the movie used actual transcripts from the real life court case. It lends real weight to the movie and I think was a real cinematic risk. But one that fully payed off. I have to say that I was expecting just another decent but uninspiring tv movie. But I was pleasantly surprised by Denial in many ways. Lead by three exceptional performances and peppered with others (Andrew Scott, Mark Gatiss and Harriet Walter stand out) Denial is a well-played and well delivered of an unfortunately very relevant court case that occasionally struggles with pacing.