Gosh, I can only imagine how much pressure there was to get this film right. All that political tension and correctness along with the actual and historically infamous cascade of human tragedy, Denial had its work cut out for it to make the film as equally engaging and entertaining as it is to do justice to all the people that suffered under the Holocaust.
Directed by Mick Jackson, Denial explores the journey for a Holocaust scholar to fight against a very 'theatrical' and prominent Holocaust denier in the British justice system. The film has a veteran cast featuring our leading lady and Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz as well as Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott. The holocaust denier, David Irving, is played by the exceptionally skilled Timothy Spall who many may know as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter series, but who also has an incredible backlog of Shakespeare/theatrical experience. There is a wealth of talent here that is hard to criticise.
Rachel Weisz's character, however, lacks a certain depth. Her character goes on an incredibly emotion-driven journey for her to become more calm and rational and not become a burden to her vast arsenal of lawyers. There wasn’t much in her as an individual besides her penchant for delivering highly emotive rhetoric in her academic pursuit of truth. Since this was based on source material, there might just not be that much about her life to draw upon other than the sheet gravity of the premise itself, and that is something to be commended in the film's execution.
The film does an excellent job orchestrating tension and suspense especially when it counts. The main setpiece that at least half of the movie revolves around is the proceedings of the real-life Irving v Penguin Books Ltd case that effectively became the infamous case to determine whether the Holocaust was real or not. Order in the court was a sight to behold. The dialogue is king, basking in the glory of the spoken word eliminating most of the non-diegetic music or sound effects. It gave quite a bit of immersion to the many days dealing with English law making the courtroom quite the cinematic place to be. Regarding editing, the use of silence gave great pace to the film.
The figure of David Irving being the Holocaust denier has been powerfully portrayed by Timothy Spall. The man’s uncanny knack for public speaking and charisma can be compared to many cult-inciting or charismatic leaders such as Scientology’s L Ron Hubbard or the "Wolf of Wall Street," Jordan Belfort. Except with something as ridiculous as denying the Holocaust, you’d think the villain's plausibility has its work cut out for him. But Spall makes it look disturbingly effortless. For a belief that he preaches which can be seen as ludicrous, to say the least, Spall commands rhythm and tone in his dialogue delivery down to a tee leading, to a conviction in his offensive words that is disturbing yet draws you in. The personality of such an infamous figure has a devilish charm that Spall embraces in his portrayal. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him in his life before the days of the court to get to explore more of this stoic man’s mentality.
Overall, Denial is a film worth watching. Based on a true story that is re-crafted with respect, Jackson has told a story that gives you a great appreciation for the legal system and the value of studying the humanity behind history. Regardless of how textbook the characters may be, the court of law is a very riveting place especially when you’re dealing with the history of the Holocaust.
Denial opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday April 13th.