Film Review: Power plays and the clearing out of idiocy in Denial (UK, 2016)

The question a film critic often wants to ask, but is discouraged from for fear of offending someone, is why make this film? The answer is, more often than not, “because now was the right time.” And for Denial, this is most certainly true.

In a world of newly termed ‘disenfranchised voters’ that are seemingly comfortable with electing morally deficient imbeciles into office (see Trump, Hanson), it’s so refreshing to watch a story about a time when calling these kinds of people out was not only acceptable, but encouraged. Because society realised then that by doing so, we weeded out the kinds of people that were detrimental to our progression as the human race. David Irving (Timothy Spall) was once such person.

As a matter of circumstance, it fell to Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) to call him out. In fact, originally it was Irving who called her out as in 1996 he brought against her a libel action in a British court, claiming she had ruined his reputation as a historian. Her response was simple, “you’re not a historian.” And he wasn’t. He was a Holocaust denier that poetically used historical documents to suit his own racist and extremist agenda. He reimagined history for the sake of being able to garner attention. He was the kind of person that no society needs.

However, in British court burden of proof is on the accused. And as such Lisptadt was then forced to prove that the Holocaust happened in order to prove Irving’s claims were false.

This cinematic dramatisation of the events surrounding and including the court case was released in 2016. A simultaneously informative and entertaining account of the case, it certainly makes for a couple of hours’ worth of riveting viewing. Rachel Weisz is believable as the cat-amongst-the-pigeons American Lipstadt and Timothy Spall is positively repulsive as Irving.

Playing the role of Lipstadt’s barrister Richard Rampton, Tom Wilkinson strikes a keen balance between unlikable lawyer and sensitive human. In fact, it’s in the tender moments between Rampton and Lipstadt, as he explains the idiosyncrasies of the British legal system, that this film transitions from just another courtroom drama into a more emotional exploration of humanity. It’s a necessary element given the subject matter.

And about the subject matter. Make no mistake, the depiction of Auschwitz is the most striking and outstanding part of this film. They visit the site on Rampton’s request. And whilst he appears insensitive during the visit, the cinematography ensures that no doubt is left about the truth behind the evil that drew breath on that ground. The entire scene is a juxtaposition to the rest of the film: stark, colourless and haunting.

Clever reference is made to David and Goliath when Irving first enters the courtroom. This is both symbolic and ironic. Symbolic because Irving’s first name is David. Ironic because ‘Davids’ are generally likeable underdogs that we want to support. And, beyond the obvious connotations, this film has much to say on the topic of power imbalance for the astute viewer willing to see it.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Denial is in Australian cinemas this Thursday, 13th April.