In Denial, a man downplays the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler during the Second World War. No, it doesn't tell the tale of the current White House Press Secretary — but it does sound unnervingly familiar, doesn't it? Filmed before the rise of Trump, no one could've guessed just how relevant this movie would feel when it finally hit screens here in Australia.
Sadly, fake news, racism and idiots with microphones aren't particularly new. We have long lived in a world filled with people willing to champion inaccurate takes on past events as fact. That's the truth at the heart of Denial, which recounts Deborah Lipstadt's (Rachel Weisz) courtroom battle with David Irving (Timothy Spall). In 1996, she was an American professor who had published a book about the Holocaust denial movement. He was a British historian named and shamed as a denier in her pages – and despite eagerly sharing his views whenever he could, he wasn't happy about it. So Irving sued Lipstadt for libel, taking advantage of the UK legal system, which placed the onus on her to prove that he was falsifying history.
Adapted from Lipstadt's book "History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier", Denial is an understandably serious and sombre affair. Restrained in its emotion, which is no easy feat considering the subject matter and its mid-movie trip to Auschwitz, the film lets the reality of the situation do the talking. Watching just how Lipstadt's defence team — including no-nonsense solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and dedicated barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) — tackles the task of exposing Irving's lies without giving him a platform to put the Holocaust on trial makes for fascinating viewing.
Director Mick Jackson might be worlds away from his '90s hit The Bodyguard, but his film still sings with drama, albeit it in a completely different way. Screenwriter David Hare remains in more familiar territory given that the Oscar-nominated script for The Reader is also on his resume. Together, the two carefully but commandingly step through the weighty material, giving the story the clear-headed retelling it deserves.
It takes immense strength and poise to play a woman forced to fight to ensure that history doesn't become a matter of opinion, but Weisz proves more than up to the challenge. It takes just the same, of course, to play a man with despicable beliefs without ever judging him; as a result, it's hard to tear your eyes away from Spall. Sadly, it's also hard to deny how scarily timely his portrayal feels, as indeed does the film as a whole.