We gave it a B-
When American academic Deborah Lipstadt called out a famed anti-Semite named David Irving in 1993 for claiming that, among other things, Hitler was actually a great friend to the Jews, she never imagined she’d be sued for libel — or that the ensuing court case would essentially put the entire accepted history of the Holocaust on trial. Working from actual transcripts and recordings from both sides, Denial sounds like exactly the kind of gripping true story that mints awards-season gold.
Sadly, it’s hamstrung by a patchy script (by David Hare) and an oddly flat-footed performance by Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt. Weisz, who was so good earlier this year in The Lobster and The Light Between Oceans, seems to get tangled in the tics and mannerisms of her character, honking out every line in an accent that sounds like dinner-theater Brooklynese and sending every gesture to the cheap seats. (It doesn’t help that they put her in a frizzy burnt-sienna home perm and a series of fanny packs to frumpify her; she is unfrumpable.) The great British character actor Timothy Spall is much better as Irving, a perfectly smarmy embodiment of the banality of evil. And Tom Wilkinson is brilliant as always as the barrister who takes on the case, complicated by England’s labyrinthine libel laws. But there’s too little actual tension in the climactic courtroom drama, and even the film’s rare privilege of being allowed to shoot on the hallowed grounds of Auschwitz feels, along with so much of the movie, like a wasted opportunity. B-