Release Date: September 30, 2016
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott
Director: Mick Jackson
Studio: Krasnoff/Foster Entertainment, Shoebox Films, Participant Media, BBC Films
Distributor: Bleecker Street
The first thing that came to my mind after watching Denial was just how smart of a movie it is. That isn’t to say it is particularly dense or confusing, but more a comment on the content itself. The film details a libel court case in the U.K. between Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and David Irving (Timothy Spall) that spans over almost a decade. Every character in the film is intelligent, an academic or historian (bunk or not) or a lawyer/solicitor. The dialogue makes references to Dickensian courts and Weisz mentions a fear of it turning Kafkaesque, and on two other occasions we see Weisz’s character jogging to a statue of Boudica. None of these things are explained in dialogue (as they don’t need to be) the movie trusts the audience to understand the references. Maybe it’s more of a reflection of me and the usual movie going fare I consume that I am so delighted by this.
Moving on, I have to comment on the novelty of the court room drama depicted here. It seems silly to commend a movie for portraying the facts correctly, but that this court case took place in the U.K. it opened up a much more interesting window into the experience than a film about a similar event through the American legal system would have. My point here being that I, and I’m sure many of you, have seen numerous court room dramas from Law & Order to To Kill A Mockingbird etc. In this story we, the audience, follow an America as she has to navigate a legal system much different from our own. Specifically, in this instance the defendant (Lipstadt and Penguin books) has to prove themselves innocent, rather than the plaintiff proving guilt. That is enough of a twist to make the story play out in different terms but with the addition of a legal team broken into two sides, portrayed by Wilkinson and Scott, the legal proceedings of the film are fresh. That’s something I’d never though I would admit, a court movie that felt different.
A final point to address is the very “Britishness” of the film. All the character minus Weisz are British, as Weisz plays a very bombastic, Brooklyn accented American. Opposite her are Wilkinson and Scott who both turn in terrific performances of a legal duo doing their best to win a case for their client who doesn’t understand their methods. There are a couple of great moments in which Scott addresses Weisz about her desire to speak at the trial and put Irving on blast. The summary of it that while yelling out your belief with rage feels satifsying, it is not how you win an argument. Instead it is the British reserved demeanor and calm collectedness that they should follow. That dichotomy of approaches is one of the main conflicts throughout the film.
Denial dwells on questions of morality and the nature of freedom of speech, wrapped in a courtroom drama of a different sort. I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable film and if the subject matter interests you in the least, be sure to check it out. I think you’ll be pleased with your choice.