Because playwright-turned-screenwriter David Hare (Plenty, The Reader) wrote the uncomfortably timely Denial, it follows that it sometimes feels like a filmed play. Director Mick Jackson (HBO’s Temple Grandin) attempts to invest the proceedings with cinematic allure—diverse locations, attractive establishing shots—but the film lives and dies by the dialogue and the performances, so it’s fortunate that both are strong. Hare drew from the book History on Trial by Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz, credible as a Queens native) about the libel suit self-educated British historian David Irving (Timothy Spall, making the most of a thankless role) filed against her.
Hare takes a procedural approach to the strategy of Lipstadt’s legal team (led by barrister Tom Wilkinson and solicitor Andrew Scott) to expose Irving as a fraud. Irving built his career around Holocaust denial, but when Lipstadt printed the truth about him, he insisted that her claim negatively impacted his livelihood. The concept of denial echoes in the way Lipstadt’s team refuses to put her—or any Holocaust survivors—on the stand. It’s the denial of an intelligent woman to speak for herself, except she wasn’t the one with a reputation to defend. In the end, the trial wasn’t about free speech, but rather the right to shape facts to fit a racist agenda. Ring a bell?