I wish I could just talk about this just as a movie but it is impossible; much like the trial it documents, it cannot be easily divorced it from current politics. Especially this year. But I’ll try by dividing my commentary.
As a movie, it is one of the most effective discussions of concentration camps and WWII since The Woman in Gold. Denial is devastating through the first half, by necessity, but it isn’t maudlin. Director Mick Jackson (LA Story, The Bodyguard) managed to capture the quiet power and impact of the Holocaust. And, by the end, provide a sense of satisfaction and resolution.
There have been many films over the years about these events, most notably Schindler’s List which was powerful, but which was a depiction of events (generally) as they happened. Woman in Gold and Denial are about reality and effects years later which is ultimately more important now. The problem with the Holocaust is that it is the horror that keeps on giving. It is a lesson that, if not learned, will become reality again as humanity’s ability to kill and to control media is ever increasing.
Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) does a bang-up job as Deborah Lipstadt in demeanor, intelligence, and even her accent. On her team, Tom Wilkinson (Snowden), Anthony Scott (Victor Frankenstein), and Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) all provide more than your standard legal experts while not losing sight of how they have to function, which is often contradictory to what you’d expect or emotionally demand. The title of this film has a lot of levels to it as the story unfolds.
Opposite them, Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) creates a true believer and weasel who is both shocking and uncomfortably familiar. You can see how his way of thinking and presentation is frustratingly seductive. Until this past year, I would have said he was a character more from the past, but the rise of populism and nationalism around the world has changed that.
Director Mick Jackson had the advantage of a script by lauded playwright David Hare (The Worricker Trilogy) with this production, but he also directed it with great acumen and avoided a heavy hammer; he lets the reality speak for itself. It is an emotional story, but also primarily a court procedural about history. There aren’t many writers outside of Aaron Sorkin who could make that material interesting and not just “important.”
Now, past this as a movie… If you need to understand why it is so terrifying to have Steve Bannon an inch from the President, this is the film you need to see. Especially true after this year’s statement from the White House on Holocaust Remembrance Day, just a couple days past:
It is these statements and reflections that make this a must-see film at this time. It is a solid and good film, no doubt, but the message is much more topical than I’m sure the filmmakers expected it to be when they began their journey. Or, perhaps, they had the scent on the wind more than the rest of us. See this for its quality as a movie, but also as a warning and suggestion of why we have to be vigilant and aware.