Denial at the Albany

Wednesday night, I went to the Albany Theater to see Denial. They were screening the drama in the big, downstairs theater.

I thought I was going to be the only person in the audience. But as the trailers were starting, I heard someone sit down a few rows behind me. I turned around, saw a man, waved to him, and he waved back. An audience.

In case you’re not familiar with the film, Denial dramatizes professional Holocaust denier David Irving’s libel lawsuit against historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz). Irving (Timothy Spall at his most loathsome) sued her in England because of that country’s absurd libel laws, which begin with an assumption of guilt. Lipstadt had to prove in court not only that the Holocaust happened, but that Hitler ordered it, Irving is a bigot, and that he distorted history intentionally.

Lipstadt is American, which allowed the film to show the British legal system through the shocked eyes of an outsider. Her lawyers, played by Andrew Scott (Sherlock’s Moriarty) and Tom Wilkenson, must explain a great deal to her. She wants to take the stand; they don’t want her to. They even refuse to let actual Holocaust survivors testify. They feel it would hurt their case.

Lipstadt and Wilkinson’s lawyer develop a testy but eventually warm friendship. I’m glad to report that the filmmakers felt no need to work a romance into the story.

Wednesday, the day after the election, was absolutely the worst day to see Denial (which may explain the empty theater). The film has neo-Nazis and a bigoted, bullying villain who refuses to accept clear reality. Spall’s performance kept reminding me of Donald Trump. One passing statement of his suggests Trump-like attitudes about women.

I’m a Rachel Weisz fan, but the British actress just couldn’t manage an American accent–or at least not the accent of a Jew raised in Queens. I could hear her consciously flattening long A sounds.

In recent years, I’ve noticed the use of black British actors playing historical African American roles–Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in Selma, and Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving in the upcoming Loving. So I guess it’s no surprise that we get a British Jew (Weisz) playing an American Jew in Denial. But I sure wish they had found a British Jew who was better at accents.

I give the film a B.

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