Movie Review: ‘DENIAL’ – message outweighs impact of narrative


Jared McMillan // Film Critic

DENIAL | 110 min | PG-13
Director: Mick Jackson
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall

In today’s American social climate, it has become clear that we hold opinions in greater currency than actually history or statistics. One can look no further than this upcoming election, as candidates react with half-truths or flat-out lies, leaving the public to fact-check. The sociopolitical spectrum is heavily manipulated from the basis of emotion.

So it’s no surprise that a movie like DENIAL would come along as both a reflection of how we handle discussion, as well as a micro representation of history repeating itself.

Based on the case David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, the film follows Prof. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) defending herself in a libel case against David Irving (Timothy Spall) in front of London’s High Court of Justice. The libel stems from Lipstadt’s book DENYING THE HOLOCAUST, which is a study on the practice of those that deny the existence of the Holocaust.

In this book, she calls Irving, a renowned Holocaust denier and Hitler enthusiast, a fraud and a liar. In 1996, Irving, ever the glory hound, brings this case to court in order to argue the Holocaust on an international stage, where the press is there to fuel the fire. Filing the case in London allows for the burden of proof to fall on the defendant. While Lipstadt is more than willing to take him head on, her legal team, led by Barrister Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) will instead find holes in Irving’s work as their case.

Written by David Hare (THE READER, THE HOURS) and directed by Mick Jackson (TEMPLE GRANDIN), the best parts of DENIAL are when they involve procedural tactics, such as Lipstadt and Rampton visiting Auschwitz or arguing that pragmatism triumph over the emotion. However, it can’t ever escape the feel of a TV movie, with a lot of emphasis on Howard Shore’s score to dampen possible impact. The majority of the actual case is shown in various ways to expedite the proceedings, which leaves the pacing disjointed; an example is only showing two key witnesses where there were five or six in the actual trial.

But, in a sense of juxtaposition, the emotion is the point. Weisz and company do well to showcase their characters without going overboard, and sometimes in spite of the script (America and Britain are different!). The purpose of the movie is to showcase an argument of history, and how it can be manipulated as a way to attain notoriety. Looking at what is going on around us today, DENIAL is something we have all seen and been disgusted by. This message is more important to the viewer than the story.

DENIAL opens in limited release on Friday, September 30.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.