By David Sexton | The Evening Standard
Denial, which follows the trial of Holocaust denier David Irving, has winning performances from Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson ****
As courtroom dramas go, Denial just about has the lot.
In 1996, David Irving, the Holocaust denier and long-term writer about Nazi Germany, launched a libel suit in Britain against Penguin Books and the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, the author of Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory, for having stated that he was a deliberate falsifier of history.
David Hare has turned the true story of the High Court battle into an efficient script, fluently directed by Mick Jackson, the BBC veteran who scored big with The Bodyguard back in 1992.
Rachel Weisz is excellent, furiously intense, as Lipstadt, hardly needing the cute accoutrements of a lovely dog back home in the States and a penchant for jogging.
Timothy Spall gives another remarkable performance as Irving, his face lined, pouchy and drawn but still maintaining a haughty defiance against the world. As Lipstadt’s lawyers, who decided that neither she nor any Holocaust survivors should be put on the stand for Irving to exploit, Andrew Scott is credibly smart as her solicitor Anthony Julius, but the actor who runs away with the film is Tom Wilkinson.
As the bibulous barrister Richard Rampton QC, Wilkinson makes having enormous presence as an actor, while never seeming just to play the same part, look so simple. If only that were true.
Denial takes a sombre excursion to the ruins of Auschwitz but the main action is all in court. The arguments — resulting in a massive written judgment in 2000, rejecting Irving’s account and permanently labelling him a Holocaust denier, anti-Semitic and racist — are necessarily a bit skimped in the film, which had its world premiere in Toronto last night.
But Hare’s script makes it clear that winning such a case is a matter of legal strategy, more than sincere expression. “You risk losing, not just for yourself, but for everyone, for ever,” Rampton warns Lipstadt, when she wants to speak up. She accepts his advice.
Her joy at finally seeing an Evening Standard billboard proclaiming “Irving the verdict: he lied” — even the way she jogs up to the statue of triumphant Boadicea by the Thames — is fully earned.