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3rd February 2017

History Goes On Trial

I confess that Denial passed me by on its release. It was fellow blogger HC Movie Reviews that put me onto it with their own review. Most courtroom dramas are American, particularly recent ones, is there a reason for that? Is the British Justice System not as sexy enough? Do we not have interesting enough cases?

Based on the book; History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah Lipstadt, writer David Hare (The Reader, The Hours) and director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard, L.A. Story) bring us the big screen adaptation.

Starring Rachel Weisz (The Mummy, The Lobster) as Deborah Lipstadt, Denial tells the story of the trial that took place when David Irving, played by Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner, Harry Potter), accused Lipstadt of libel when she said he was a Holocaust denier. Originally, Lipstadt wants nothing to do with Irving, but as he plays up to things more and more she is left with little choice but to tackle him in court.

The catch? The catch is that Irving has brought the case to the UK justice system and, under UK law, the burden of proof is with the accused (crazy right?) and so it is left to Lipstadt and her legal team to pretty much prove that the Holocaust actually happened.

Many times when I was younger I have believed what someone has told me, or what I have read and not taken the time to find other points of view, listen to other sides of the story. Learning the hard way from that I now, whenever possible, ensure I do about everything I can. Some may say I even take it a little far but, as the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy.

Denial is an excellent example of this. I think the vast majority of us believe (even that word doesn’t seem right) that the Holocaust happened. Yet, how many of us will have actually taken the time to look for proof, or at the proof? How many of us who believe it occurred have read accounts, seen photos, watched documentaries and, perhaps most importantly, heard from those who don’t believe it happened?

I’d like to say that Denial puts this front and centre and tackles that issue head on. However, I’m unable to as, and this is actually clever from the trial point of view, rather than putting the Holocaust on trial, the legal team make the whole thing about proving David Irving falsified his evidence. They look to discredited his writings and him as a person and therefore show that the Holocaust happened.

Andrew Scott (Spectre, Sherlock) plays Anthony Julius who Lipstadt originally turns to (Julius represented Princess Diana for her divorce) for help. He, in turn, looks to Richard Rampton, played by Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to take Irving on in court who, for reasons known only to him, decides to represent himself.

From a performance point, Spall is absolutely mesmerising. He delivers on so many levels and puts everyone else to shame. Scott and Wilkinson follow his performance but aren’t quite able to match it whilst Weisz, I’m sorry to say, is left sadly lacking behind. She just doesn’t convince me that this is her thing, this is her passion, I just don’t see it compared to Spall.

The film itself never manages to reach the giddy heights and tension of most courtroom dramas, American or otherwise. The trial lasted for 32 days and we’re shown a fraction of this. Oddly, at one point I was thinking ‘are they going to go too far with courtroom days’ and yet when it leapt to the end my thoughts were ‘well that was rushed’.

Denial could and should have been a riveting, gripping and moving story but ultimately it falls flat of this. That’s not to say it isn’t worth watching, it certainly is, for Timothy Spall’s performance if nothing else, followed by Wilkinson. That said, it is clever and it’s interesting to see the UK system for a change, but perhaps the BBC should have used the TV department rather than the film department for this one.

Based on the book; History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah Lipstadt

27th January 2017

Mick Jackson

David Hare

Running Time:
1h 49min


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