Toronto: 'Denial' Performances Could Attract Academy's Attention

It's kind of incredible that in 2016, when so many movies that reach theaters are nothing but remakes, sequels or adaptations of one pop-cultural phenomenon or another, a new film has been made about Deborah Lipstadt, a professor and an expert on the Holocaust, and David Irving, the historian who sued her for libel after she called him a Holocaust denier in one of her books — because it is that rarity, a film about history and ideas and debate.

But that is precisely what Bleecker Street will bring to theaters on Sept. 30 when it releases Mick Jackson's Denial, which is drawn from Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Hare's adaptation of Lipstadt's book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial. Starring Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, the movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday night.

For members of the Academy, who soon will be asked to consider Denial for awards, I think the most appealing thing about the film will be its performances: Weisz, with a wig and Queens accent firmly in place, is as strong as anyone could be as Lipstadt (I say this as someone who saw Lipstadt speak at Brandeis University shortly after the trial and before my graduation), while Spall, with his inimitable sneer, and Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson (as Lipstadt's lead counsel) shine in supporting parts. But it's a competitive year in both the lead actress and supporting actress Oscar categories, so nothing is a given. Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore's original score also could attract attention.

Some, though, might find it a bit forced, since the idea of relitigating the Holocaust in 2016, or even in 1996 (when most of the film is set), seems like debating the undeniable, at least to anyone who might go to an art house theater to see Denial. (The situation was different in 1961 when Judgment of Nuremberg was released and dissected a tragedy that largely had been swept under the rug up to that point — and the film was recognized with 11 Oscar nominations, including for best picture.) Also hard to believe is England's legal system, which, in libel cases, places the burden of proof on the accused, hence the U.S.-based Lipstadt's appearance in a British courtroom in the first place. But, that being said, many Academy members will be pleased that Denial exists, in the hope it will result in fewer Irvings and more Lipstadts in the future.