Sometimes there are stories in history that must be told and work very, very well on camera. Schindler’s List, The King’s Speech, John Adams. Arguably they’re not always perfectly historically accurate, but they are good enough to tell the core of the truth but still be a good work of cinema. Sometimes good history makes for terrible film. Twelve Years A Slave is a good example, excellent history showing how things actually were, but because plot, character,and thematic arcs were sacrifices for historical accuracy there was no emotional connection to the characters on screen and a more meaningful impact would likely have been made by choosing to display the information in documentary form.
Denial, regrettably fits into this latter category. The pacing was off, far too much time was spent on exposition of explaining legal intricacies of the British court system to a predominately American audience (I get why it absolutely needed to be there, but it doesn’t change the fact that it ruined the pacing of the film), and the real life villain happened to be a sue happy piece of filth, thus you could tell that almost every single line of dialogue from this white-supremacist trash were word for word lines taken from court transcript or video. This later point is particularly glaring, especially when the credit includes a bizarrely long list of legal consultants for the BBC, it becomes clear that they were out to make sure that he couldn’t sue over this movie and thus kept every line of dialogue to something they could prove he said. This also limited the poor actor who had to play him. I despise the man, but I can also rationally say the character came off as flat. The way even sane people talk in court and talk when speaking to the press is not the kind of personal dialogue that gives a character in a film (even a historical one) the full depth that it needs to be believable…for the kind of rank evil of David Irving (which by the way I publish in America so I can say Irving and any Holocaust denier is a mentally deficient, morally bankrupt, pathological liar who is the villain of the film and real life, the separation of two is more drastic.
That is not to say that this film is not emotionally powerful. It is. But not because of the film, because of the subject matter and the things you know are factually true.
The Holocaust. The disgusting nature of Holocaust denial. The vile need for deniers to try and force their way into a conversation and demand to be taken seriously, which they are not entitled to will lead to them engaging in absolutely preposterous childish antics and rage filled actions of acting out. These are things people should know about. (Also how stupid British libel laws are.)
Honestly this story is an important one, but while Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt should be supported I think it would be better to go and buy her books History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier and the book that started all this Denying the Holocaust. Read those, I feel they’re much better discussions of this topic than this poorly paced film. And it may simply be that I think the message is so important that what was an adequate film came up so short in comparison to its message.
And I wish I could give a better review because it’s certainly not the actors fault. Rachel Weisz does her usual outstanding job, Tom Wilkerson gives a wonderful job with a reserved character whom he gives a wonderful amount of life to with little moments, and Timothy Spall does a lot with his character even though he is clearly limited to only saying what Irving is on record saying (and I would wager that lawyers made sure he didn’t deviate very far from Irving’s delivery when possible).
But despite it’s flaws I think everyone should still see this movie as a movie with it’s immediacy will always have more of an emotional impact than a book can for the vast majority of people, and people need to know that these small minded bullies cannot be allowed to ride rough shod over those who would speak the truth and reveal their lies for what they really are.
Final Grade B-