Given this sixteen year span and the nature of the story, this seems like quite a challenge to adapt for the screen, even for a writer as seasoned and talented as David Hare, who, between 'The Hours' and 'The Reader', has proved his brilliance in that specific department. Here though, because the story is told in chronological order, with many scenes feeling like real time, I didn’t quite sense that I was watching a film, which was refreshing at times, but didn’t quite work throughout. It is oddly a film cliché that kept me from getting into it during the exposition. In addition to beginning in 1994, 'Denial' actually has a 90's feel to it, which goes beyond costumes and also makes its mark on the script and cinematography.
That being said, once the plot moved to London (with a stop in Auschwitz), it seemed to settle into a form (something between a high end TV movie and cinematic memoirs/diary, the latter making sense given the book it’s adapted from), I became pleasantly hooked. There is more than one reason for this. First and foremost, I fell in love with Tom Wilkinson’s performance as Richard Rampton, the London barrister defending Lipstadt. This may also be the most interestingly written character in the story: a subtle blend of quintessentially British toughness, quiet passion, and heart warming affability. Wilkinson played all brilliantly. Equally captivating was Andrew Scott as solicitor Anthony Julius, who was already famous at the time for taking care of Princess Diana’s divorce.
On the subject of barristers and solicitor, seeing the British legal system presented from an American perspective was something I’d never seen on screen before, and thus most welcome.
This aspect was also linked to what truly got me hooked and gives the film’s title a double meaning: once in London, the heroine’s journey and her conflicts became clear. Due to British law, Lipstadt and her legal team are forced to prove the holocaust happened, using facts and logic only. No witnesses. Nothing spoken. And thus Lipstadt must keep quiet at all costs, deny the holocaust survivors the opportunity to speak in court, and put her entire career and beliefs in the hands of a foreign legal team she barely knows. Parallely, she must face a surprising response from the Jewish community in London when she attempts to raise funds for the case.
Although I knew how the story would end, Alex Jennings’s guarded quality as judge Sir Charles Gray kept me on the edge of my seat nonetheless. Unquestionably a story worth dramatising, with fascinating characters played by a great cast, it unfortunately lacked that cinematic and narrative oomph to make it a courtroom classic in the likes of, for example, '12 Angry Men'.
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