With chatty urgency, director Mick Jackson dramatizes the 2000 trial in which a flinty Brit Holocaust denier sued Penguin Books for libel. At issue, technically: whether American historian Deborah Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz in an agreeable gabber-from-Queens mode) libeled the Hitler-adoring hate-clown David Irving (Timothy Spall) when she pointed out in her book Denying the Holocaust that Irving's arguments, in speeches and his own books, are built upon flagrant distortions of history. At stake, more generally: whether established historical truth must continually be re-argued in courts of law every time a troll abuses the legal system.
Outside of the courtroom and a couple montages of Weisz out for a jog, Denial plays as a series of consultations, many fascinating and detailed, but some curiously repetitious. Jackson and screenwriter David Hare often find irony and pathos in the legal wrangling, especially in the slow, stupid grinding of the British court system, which encourages a very English dispassion. There's little doubt about the outcome of the case, so the filmmakers goose their story with a couple unconvincing moral conflicts. Lipstadt agonizes over her solicitors' choice not to put any Holocaust survivors on the stand, for fear that Irving -- who stands as his own advocate -- would then be free to hector them with questions. Weisz's Lipstadt jogs in some agony over this, airing the issue with solicitor James Libson (Jack Lowden) a time too many. She also has to find her way to forgive gruff barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) for his focus on crime-scene details during a trip to Auschwitz. The complexity of the real Lipstadt's responses are continually simplified and flattened.