Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall battle it out in court in this dry, Holocaust-themed drama
In the 'post-truth' era this dramatisation of a celebrated 1996 court case offers a timely reminder of the difference between fact and opinion. Although based on Deborah Lipstadt's book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, this BBC production adapted by the playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) and brought to screen by director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) sticks too rigorously to the well-known facts.
Played with an unconvincing Queens accent by Rachel Weisz, Lipstadt is a historian and lecturer who faces a damaging libel suit after deriding controversial author David Irving (Timothy Spall) for his views on the Holocaust. Lipstadt travels to London to fight the case, where her legal team – led by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) – advise her not to take the stand and not to allow any Holocaust survivors to do so. Team Lipstadt hope to starve Irving of publicity but, when the case leads to a series of headlines, Lipstadt begins to doubt their strategy.
Denial has some compelling stretches, particularly when Irving's arguments are examined and then rebuked in court, but Hare's script fails to provide insight into the major players. Irving's strategy and motivations are unclear, beyond a throwaway line about his desire to be seen as part of an establishment 'club'. Similarly, Lipstadt remains an enigmatic heroine; she jogs around London, and feels a responsibility to the Jewish people, but there's little else to engage with.
Aside from a brief, sobering outing to Auschwitz itself, there's not much visually for Jackson to focus on other than the wigs and talking heads – the best of which belong to Wilkinson and Scott, managing to imbue proceedings with energy and character. Sadly, for the most part, Denial offers little more than a dry, less-than-cinematic reconstruction of a memorable trial.
General release from Fri 27 Jan.