FilmMuse: Mick Jackson's "Denial" (2016)

2016 seems to be a watershed year for bio-pics with such high profiles releases as Snowden, Queen of Katwe, Sully, Race, Eddie the Eagle, Florence Foster Jenkins among many others. Currently in theaters is the Nat Turner slavery period piece The Birth of a Nation and the Rachel Weisz starring Holocaust courtroom drama Denial. Films about slavery and Nazis are nothing new, however with the current state of events and our political climate these subjects couldn't be more timely.

Director Mick Jackson, with a resume rich in British television adaptions, takes a swift procedural approach to Denial, with a tone that is Masterpiece Theatre meets John Grisham. Weisz plays historian Deborah Lipstadt, an academic with a newly published book called Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Lipstadt lectures on this denial phenomenon at Emory University and is eager to have book signings; only to have one of the subjects of her book, David Irving, crash her speaking engagement and challenge her to a debate. When Lipstadt refuses, Irving sues her for libel in London's royal courts where the burden of innocence is on the defendant. 

Viewers can draw parallels between the absurdity of this year's Presidential debates and the clash of logic versus lunacy between Lipstadt and Irving. Although never overtly stated in the film, Denial draws parallels between what can and should be protected under free speech rights and what fervent political correctness can lead to. Irving comes from a place of, as the trial comes to bring light to, an intense racist ideology that has blinded him from the truth, causing him to distort facts for his own philosophical benefits. 

Lipstadt's "British Dream Team" of savvy litigators rely on the historical facts and evidence to back Irving into a corner where at one point he plainly admits he is not a "Holocaust expert" but rather a "Hitler expert." Denial is not so much about Lipstadt as it is about the legal challenges of debunking people who question historical records in a court of law. 

Although there are slower moments in the first half of Denial, Jackson sharply executes the courtroom cat and mouse game between Irving and the lawyers. Timothy Spall's portrayal of David Irving brings him to life in all of his revolting mania, while Tom Wilkinson's cross examinations of him could lead to Oscar nods for both actors. Equally effective is Andrew Scott's performance as Lipstadt's young hot-shot lawyer where Scott is stealing multiple scenes from Weisz with his eccentric charm. 

Only a sick puppy would deny the Holocaust. The problem is that when people begin to turn over stones looking for evidence to prove whatever harebrained theory they may have, sometimes they may find a square peg they could finagle into their Rorschach. During Irving's testimony in Denial, he begins to vehemently question the presence of gas-chambers at Auschwitz. Irving claims there's no evidence of holes found on the ceilings of the chambers where toxins could've been added, therefore he proudly proclaims that "no holes = no Holocaust." But as Denial demonstrates from court room battles to its final shot, just because someone pokes holes in a story, that doesn't mean it's not true. 


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