Once, TV used to aspire to film, but TV has got so good lately that we might have come full circle. Denial from Mick Jackson, a director primarily known for his TV work – and The Bodyguard, incongruously – has stripped this courtroom saga back to its mahogany rafters until it resembles a gripping Sunday night BBC drama.
And in this case it works. Despite travelling from Georgia to London via Auschwitz, this low key approach feels appropriately claustrophobic – not to mention chillingly relevant in the age of ‘alternative facts.’
Rachel Weisz dons a red wig and an equally distracting Noo Yawk accent to play Deborah Lipstadt, a respected Jewish academic who finds herself in miserable old Blighty with only a team of cold, calculating lawyers for company after she accuses David Irving, played as a cringe-inducing narcissist by Timothy Spall, of distorting historical evidence to fit an anti-semitic agenda in one of her books.
Her legal counsel takes little time in informing her that UK libel law places the burden of proof on her words, not Irving’s. Determined not to put the Holocaust on trial – which would lend legitimacy to Irving’s offensive worldview – her team concoct a plan to prove his version of history is false without calling a single Holocaust survivor as a witness.
With little spectacle, David Hare’s excellent script does a stellar job translating loopy legalese into snappy dialogue, which is carried by a cast of heavyweight character-actors. Mark Gatiss and Tom Wilkinson steal the show as Lipstadt’s learned yet socially lacking lawyers, but it could have done with a lot more Spall (but then, what doesn’t need more Spall?).
An surprisingly suspenseful and undeniably entertaining film for legal nerds everywhere.