Denial chimes in week of Donald Trump's 'alternative facts'

Rachel Weisz delivers her character Deborah Lipstadt's words with steeliness and resolve
Damon Smith

THE timing of director Mick Jackson's drama, based on a real-life courtroom battle between two historians with radically different views of the Holocaust, is uncanny.

In the same week that Donald Trump's administration provided "alternative facts" about the presidential inauguration, Denial poses tantalising questions about the grey area between commonly held belief and unquestionable truth.

A high-profile libel lawsuit between Holocaust denier David Irving and Penguin Books Ltd, representing American author Deborah Lipstadt, took more than three years to resolve before a final ruling in April 2000 at the High Court in London.

The arguments and responses of the case are more engrossing than screenwriter David Hare can condense into 110 minutes.

Jackson's film has its grandstand moments including a fraught dinner party in leafy Hampstead, where well-to-do members of London's Jewish community beg Lipstadt to settle the lawsuit rather than gift Irving the oxygen of free publicity.

"Here in England, you may like appeasement, but I don't," she responds tartly.

Oscar winner Rachel Weisz delivers these zinging one-liners and other speeches with steeliness and resolve. She illuminates her character's frustrations, choosing attack as the best form of defence until her avuncular 60-something lead counsel suggests facing the enemy head-on – a clash of scholarly egos – could be misguided.

"Stay seated, button your lip. Win," he suggests with a warm Scottish burr. "A real act of self-denial."

Lipstadt (Weisz) holds the chair in Jewish And Holocaust Studies at Emory University.

During a lecture to college students, she is interrupted by Irving (Timothy Spall), who has sneaked into the auditorium with a camera crew in order to publicly disrupt the event.

Soon after, she receives a call from Anthony Forbes-Watson (Pip Carter), managing director of Penguin Books.

Irving intends to file a lawsuit in London because the company has refused to withdraw her book, Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory, which repeatedly mentions Irving and which he claims is robbing him "of his reputation as a professional historian".

Lawyer Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), who represented Diana, Princess of Wales during her divorce, agrees to take the case.

Denial provides an accessible route into complex legal arguments, anchored by strong performances from Weisz and Spall on opposite sides of the heated debate. Hare's script lacks suspense and the passage of time isn't clear, but he crafts some fascinating verbal exchanges that play to the ensemble cast's strengths.

DENIAL (12A, 110 mins) Drama. Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings, Harriet Walter. Director: Mick Jackson

RATING: 6/10

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