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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: Denial

The Shocking True Story of the Court Case That Put the Holocaust on Trial

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: October 21, 2016 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director: Mick Jackson
Writers: David Hare (screenplay), 
Deborah Lipstadt (book)
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, 
Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson

Attention, Academy: Give Rachel Weisz the Oscar! The London-born actress's startling transformation into a tough-talking teacher from Queens, New York, is nothing short of extraordinary.

I'll be honest: It's a pet peeve of mine whenever a performer attempts an accent that isn't their own. Let's face it: it doesn't always work – at least not 100% effectively. Oftentimes, you can almost see the gears grinding in their head as they concentrate on adjusting their vocal chords while simultaneously remembering and reciting their dialogue. Every word out of their mouth usually feels strained and unnatural. That's not the case here. If I had never seen Weisz before, I would swear she was born and raised in New York. She's that good in "Denial."

In 1996, historian and writer Deborah Lipstadt (Weisz) was sued for libel by Third Reich sentimentalist David Irving (Timothy Spall) because she characterized his beliefs as "Holocaust denial." His actual views: the Holocaust never took place. His argument: that "denier" has become a defamatory term with negative connotations – similar to "racist" and other such words.

The trial was lengthy and cost millions of pounds. Yes, pounds. Apparently, America isn't the only country that gets itself tied up in frivolous litigation.

But there is one very important difference to note: The American judicial system of "innocent until proven guilty" does not apply in England. Instead, it is up to the accused party to prove his or her innocence. In this case, that meant Deborah – and the Holocaust, by extension – was put on trial, even though the lawsuit was filed against her.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But it actually happened.

Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) agrees to take the case. He was previously Princess Diana's lawyer, which means Deborah's defense is being handled by an elite legal team. The stakes are too high for anything less, and the ramifications of a loss would be devastating.

In another difference from the American judicial system, it isn't Julius himself who will argue the case in court. Instead, that important duty is given to a different lawyer entirely, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson, who delivers yet another solid, reliable performance in a career filled with them).

Within the first few seconds of hearing David Irving speak out against the Holocaust, Silver Screen Sister shouted at the screen: "I'm already offended on behalf of all Jewish people."

That offense turned to grief as Deborah and Richard travel to Auschwitz on a "research mission." In a stunning scene, what at first seems like air in the sky ends up being a faded montage of concentration camp prisoners descending the stairs of Auschwitz to their impending doom.

Watching the intricacies of the English legal process unfold is fascinating. In a big American trial, you would expect Deborah to passionately take the stand, and for Holocaust survivors to do the same. Neither happens in "Denial" – for very good reasons I'll leave you to discover.

This film does a great job of creating suspense for what is otherwise a forgone conclusion.

Is a court of law the right place to decide the legitimacy of the Holocaust? That's the question I raised during the movie and one the people involved in the case struggled with as well. There are no easy answers, but what cannot be debated is just how important – crucial – it is to discuss a historical event of this magnitude. Perhaps the formality of a courtroom setting is as good a venue as any. 

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