I can’t say I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing about David Irving, the real-life denier of the Holocaust and supposed historian that’s the subject of Mick Jackson’s Denial, but now that I have, it has stirred up a lot of mixed emotions within me. Mixed in the sense that, with the current state of affairs as they are, I could do without another high profile racist that’s too dumb to even realise the extent of their prejudice, but equally pleased that this incredibly compelling true story was brought to my attention through what is a thrilling and moving piece of cinema.
If, like me, you were unaware of the true story surrounding Irving, it revolves around a court case from the early millennium in which an American writer and author, Deborah E. Lipstadt, was sued by Irving for liable after writing damning statements about him in one of her books. It was a case which quickly became more than about two people with opposing beliefs, however, and which escalated into a case of whether the Holocaust could or could not be proven to have ever happened.
The fascinating subject matter, made all the more so due to it happening recently, is enough in itself to give Denial must-watch status; the fact that it is handled so well by the film’s director, writer and stellar cast only makes it more so. And whereas most BBC-produced biopics can sometimes be slightly ordinary and televisual, this is lifted up by a sturdy construct and dramatic flourishes that make it more memorable than most.
One such flourish is a sequence set within Auschwitz that is virtually silent for the most part, perfectly capturing the deadly and eerie quiet that anybody who has ever visited, like myself, can assure you hangs over the area as if all sign of life has abandoned such a place of horror forever. Another is the way in which scenes of Lipstadt and her lawyers prepare for court are blocked with a natural, very real sense of truth as characters talk over one another and interrupt.
The performances are of course key to capturing such a sense of reality, and it must be said that ever cast member, however big or small their role, is on fine form here. The big players are Rachel Weisz, whose fantastic turn as the bold and brash American plays marvellously against the typically reserved and British performances of Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott. It’s Timothy Spall who has the toughest job of all though, playing a real villain that, through his nuanced performance, raises questions about the character. Is he evil and egotistical, or simply too oblivious to see how despicable his attitudes and beliefs actually are?
The supporting performances are equally as admirable, with Mark Gatiss, Alex Jennings and Harriet Walker all managing to make an impact in the limited amount of time they’re on screen. And also worth mentioning are the understated but touching score from Howard Shore and the film’s lovely cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos.
All things considered, the drama is better than average and will engage, shock and move you. But perhaps most of all, with the current political state of “alternative facts”, “fake news” and Muslim bans as it is, the film is a surprisingly vital and timely story about the value of historical truth and the importance of learning from our mistakes. For that, Denial isn’t just riveting film-making at its best, but essential viewing that we could all do with right about now.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com