You know, the producers of Denial really lucked out. The could be no time in the past decade, possibility even longer, better to release your film about Holocaust denial. We got that whole Trump problem, the growing popularity of far-right politics in the western world, the rise of the alternate fact and fake news. Holocaust denial is like the centre of the venn diagram of the disgusting pointy threats that we didn’t realise that we may have to face. I wish they knew how important a film it could be for today’s world at the beginning of its production. They might have taken more time to iron out its wrinkles.
The film is based on the 1999 David Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt defamation case; in which notorious neo-nazi and holocaust-denying ‘historian’ David Irving decided to sue the woman calling him out as such. Yeah, we can all tell how that one ended. It chooses to focus on the formulation and execution of the defence and the legal team responsible for it. This would work in a courtroom drama about quite possibly any other thing, the problem here is the holocaust.
Cos, you see, the holocaust, as the film points out, so obviously happened that there’s no huge intrigue to explore. There no sense of discovery here because what is being deliberated is reality, reality that everyone has a duty to be familiar with. It’s not even a particularly fractious court case at that, no big twists or grand reversals of fortune, it all unfolds quite as expected. What drama there is then comes from the disagreements of the legal team and Ms Lipstadt on the handling of the case, which inevitably serves to undermine these characters sense of integrity and professionalism.
See this is a story with a villain. The denier. We don’t get to see much of him, I imagine, because his side of the story was never told. But by removing him from the centre here we lose both the sense of him as the foe he is, and much of the discussion around his actions. There’s important discussions to be had here: the danger of extremism masquerading as respectability. The methods of propagating extremism. How people will fucking lie right into your fucking face and try to make you look stupid for disagreeing. Sorry, got frustrated there. There’s work this flick could (and should) have done, it just don’t.
The performances don’t help it too much either; Rachael Weitz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall are all amazing creatures when they want to be but this is far from career best work from any of them. Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss turn up too because this is very much their m.o. again, neither operate out of their usual range. Everything is just a little too formulaic, a little too forgettable, let’s say aside from some great photography at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum.
The final nail in this film’s coffin then, has to be its Britishness. It is a very British film. An inappropriately British film. Openly celebratory of our culture and values and certainly our judicial system. What criticism is there of the world that accepted this man, that published his works, that allowed him to take part in its academic culture. None. The ending shows a British victory by British people on behalf of an American. And, oh, fuck off, we are all a part of this, we all see the hate that surrounds us. Our film gotta stop pretending like we’re any different.