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dir Mick Jackson
scr David Hare
prd Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff
with Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings, Harriet Walter, Mark Gatiss, John Sessions, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Pip Carter
release US 30.Sep.16, UK 27.Jan.16
16/UK BBC 1h50
Truth on trial: Weisz, Scott and Lowden
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
With a razor-sharp David Hare script adapted from Deborah Lipstadt's memoir, this true courtroom drama carries a powerful kick as it explores the tricky business of proving that a historical event did indeed take place. And this story has the added weight of the Holocaust behind it, as a legal team must take an unexpected approach to catch a racist in his lies.
In 1996, historian David Irving (Spall) sues Emory professor Deborah (Weisz) for libel in a London court after she refers to him as a Holocaust denier in a book. With financial backing in America, she meets her legal team, led by solicitor Anthony (Scott) and barrister Richard (Wilkinson), plus lawyers James and Laura (Lowden and Pistorius). They convince David to let the case be heard by a judge (Jennings) without a jury present, so David will be unable to grandstand. And they controversially decide to put neither Deborah nor any survivors on the stand.
Hare's lacerating script doesn't waste a single word, as each conversation slices straight to the heart of the issue. This gives the film an urgent sense of momentum and a remarkable lucidity, despite a seriously complex plot that never falls into the standard courtroom drama formula, mainly due to its wide range of important characters. The script is so sharp that the audience is always up to speed, right with the Deborah as she faces each surprising turn.
Weisz gives a brightly transparent performance as an impatient American forced to cope with Britain's distinct judicial system. Deborah has a lot to say but must remain quiet, so Weisz makes sure she is profoundly expressive. She also has great sparring partners in Wilkinson and Scott as men who know what they're doing and don't feel the need to explain themselves. And Spall offers another fully committed turn, this time as a well-spoken man who is oddly sympathetic despite his repugnant views.
What this film has to say about revisionist history and extreme beliefs is darkly profound, especially as it explores the self-denial people have about their own prejudices. It's a rare movie that tackles hugely important issues without getting bogged down by a preachy message. This is no mean fest for a movie that includes an elegiac sequence shot at Auschwitz. Instead, the filmmakers grip the viewer with the snappy drama and the high stakes, forcing us to explore our unspoken thoughts.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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