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DENIAL: 4 STARS. “satisfies as a slice of legal history and big screen entertainment.”

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-3-05-38-pmBased on the book by Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University Deborah E. Lipstadt, the new film “Denial” chronicles a real-life court case that could have made it acceptable to deny the Holocaust.

The action in “Denial” begins with Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) giving a lecture in support of her latest book. In the audience is David Irving (Timothy Spall), a self-taught British historian and Holocaust denier. Because Lipstadt steadfastly refuses to debate deniers, Irving, upset she singled him out in her book as a less than reputable historian, brings the argument to her. He theatrically offers a $1000 reward for any printed link between Hitler and the Final Solution.

Rebuffed, he launches a libel lawsuit claiming Lipstadt and her publisher are part of a worldwide conspiracy to rob him of his livelihood as a historian. The case, filed in England, left the burden of proof on the accused, Lipstadt. Baffled by the foreign legal system the American is led through the complicated case by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), the solicitor who handled Lady Diana’s divorce. “We have no strategy,” says Julius, “we’re trying to box him in with the truth.”

Donations from benefactors like Steven Spielberg paid for the gruelling eight-week, £3,000,000 trial which boiled down to one main question: Is Irving a liar and a falsifier of history or simply a historian who sees things from Hitler’s point of view? The stakes are high, if Irving wins his account of history will be given credence. “The man is a liar and someone needs to say so,” Lipstadt says.

For much of its running time “Denial” is a taut court procedural—kind of like the last half of a great “Law and Order” episode—with colourful characters. Weisz, a feisty force of nature amid the more reserved Brits, holds the center of the film with a combination of grit and concern. Scott is the epitome of the stiff-upper-lipped lawyer but it is Wilkinson who shines, hiding a sharp legal mind behind a grandfatherly façade. As the villain Irving, Spall brings desperation, indignation and condescension to a man who wants respect for his opinions.

“Denial” moves along at a zippy pace, exploring the pertinent details but taking the time to add an emotional wallop with a research trip to Auschwitz. A drawn out ending slows things down a bit in an attempt to add drama to a verdict that is historical record but satisfies both as a precedent setting slice of legal history and a big screen entertainment.

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