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Denial, review: ‘Spall makes a magnificent gargoyle of Irving’

PUBLISHED: 08:00 27 January 2017

Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt in Denial, filmed in JW3 main hall. Picture: Laurie Sparham / Bleecker Street

Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt in Denial, filmed in JW3 main hall. Picture: Laurie Sparham / Bleecker Street

© 2016 Bleecker Street

Rachel Weisz stars in this true story as Deborah Lipstadt, who took to the stand to prove that the Holocaust happened

This is a film about Holocaust denial denial. When Jewish American academic Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) writes that British “historian” David Irving (Timothy Spall) says that the Holocaust never happened, he sues her for libel because he says it is not fair for her to say he said it never happened, even though he did say it never happened, because she says the evidence he used to say it never happened wasn’t valid, and he says it was and that he is a proper historian, which she says he isn’t. And because he sued her in a British court, she, or rather her expensive legal team, have to prove that the Holocaust did happen.

Based on a true story, a courtroom drama, an underdog tale, about the Holocaust, Denial would appear to have a full house in any hand of Oscar pleading, but David Hare’s script inverts every awards season convention.

The plucky underdog single handedly facing down the oppressive might of the establishment is a stuck up racist and anti-semite (though to be fair, Irving is a self made stuck up racist and anti-semite, who pulled himself up into the gutter by his boot straps).

The good guys are pampered, patronising, snooty lawyers who like to drink rather excellent reds from plastic cups.

It’s an odd recommendation, but what I like about this film is that there isn’t a likeable major character in it.

Spall, now dramatically slimmed down, makes a magnificent gargoyle of Irving, giving him the pained but somehow smug expression of someone wearily accustomed to the tiresomeness of dealing with intellectual inferiors.

The lawyers are the British establishment at their most unbearable, even though this time they are on the right side. Even Lipstadt comes over as abrasive and strident.

The narrative poses a fascinating quandary: should she fulfill her role as the hero of the narrative? She wants to do the right and heroic thing: to get on the stand, defend the truth and give survivors the right to have their say too. Her lawyers strongly advise against it fearing Irving will most likely destroy her and any survivor who testifies. She believes she’s the lead character here, but everybody is demanding she behave like an extra.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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