The War We Can't Let Go Of

At an early stage, in the film ‘Denial’, a young legal eagle asks, ‘What is there about this war that we can’t let go of?’ – or words to that effect. He was greeted in the chambers by stony silence and stern looks, surrounded, as he was, by souls who realised there was a Jewess in their number.

There were three films, set in the second great war of the previous century, on at the State in the week I ventured out to see this offering – indicative that we can’t let go. They were ‘The Innocents’, ‘Their Finest’ and this one. The ‘Zookeepers Wife’ was slated to arrive soon after. I also viewed the second listed. I am not a fan of any supposed entertainment involving the heroics of American GIs slaughtering enemy forces and saving the world. That was a part of my upbringing – ‘Combat’ on the tele, John Wayne et al on the big screen. Today, thankfully, even Hollywood has become somewhat more subtle and sensitive and the two offerings here had something special as an added enticement to attract me.

I love a good courtroom drama and that is essentially what ‘Denial’ is. It’s roots are, though, in the shock to humanity that was the Holocaust. There are none of the harrowing imagery of mass-extermination here, but, at one stage, the main protagonists visit Auschwitz where they stand on the roof of what was once a gas chamber. That was chilling enough as they contemplated what once occurred beneath their feet during those years..

The movie details a court case involving a Holocaust denier. How can such people exist? It features the odious David Irving who is still spruiking his noxious views to the sort of people who maybe voted for Trump and Le Pen. American Scholar Deborah Lipstadt – the aforementioned Jewess in the room – sets out, along with the publishers of one of her books on the topic, to prove, not that these events occurred (that would further stress the survivors of the death camps), but that the man, Irving (Timothy Spall), is a liar. He is suing Lipstadt (a feisty Rachel Weisz) for his defamation in one of her publications. This takes us to an intriguing quirk of British law that sets the scene and brings into the picture Richard Rumpton QC. In the role Tom Wilkinson steals the show as the unshakable stickler for principle which, at first, doesn’t go down well with the Yankee brigade, aghast at the archaic vagaries of UK law.

Spall also thrives as the denying villain. One critic describes his presence in this as all ‘… courtly manners masking a snarling junkyard dog beneath…’. I also particularly liked ‘Sherlock’s’ Andrew Scott as solicitor Anthony Julius. Written by David Hare, the movie has much to commend it, even if we know how it all ends. That this case savaged Irving’s reputation, yet he still manages to go on putting out his falsehoods as gospel – the ultimate fake news – is quite obscene. At times the world is a weird place.

Age reviewer Sandra Hall claims there was a time when she ‘…couldn’t see the point of Bill Nighy.’ That was during his television years, usually playing a womanising rogue. Well, it was one of those series where he was cast as a philandering university academic, of the most disreputable kind, that first attracted me to one of my favourite actors. And then along came ‘Still Crazy’ in 1998. Hall reassessed him, I became even more enamoured and thus have remained ever since. For most he’ll be always remembered for that unlikely hit, ‘Love Actually’ – but, for my money, his best performance came with 2005’s ‘Girl in the Cafe’.

‘Their Finest’ is a take on the old chestnut of making a film within a film – this one’s mainly set in the London Blitz. The inner movie is a ‘based on true events’ incident, during the Dunkirk evacuations, whereby two Norfolk sisters rescued soldiers in their father’s fishing boat. Nighy plays a once well recognised actor, now down on his uppers, cast as a drunken uncle for the propaganda effort, aiming to lift local spirits. Scripting it (or providing the slops, as a woman’s perspective was evidently termed back then) is Catrin Cole (the versatile and beauteous Gemma Arterton). Sam Caflin – the death wish quadriplegic from ‘Me Before You’ – is Cate’s fellow writer who becomes the love interest. Richard E Grant and Eddie Marsan get a look-in as well.

Really, apart from the two leads, this film has not a great deal going for it – even if it was granted an extended run at the State. The look of the offering is meant to be redolent of the period as it tries to capture the stiff upper lipness of the times – and it was interesting to see how they devised special effects in the era before digital technology. It’s all a tad twee, but even in second rate material Nighy and Arterton are class acts worth watching.

It’s seven decades on from the end of World War Two, but I am sure there are many, many stories have yet to be milked from those tumultuous six years of conflict – but we never learn from them, do we? There’s a mad man again loose, this time in North Korea; a Syrian leader prepared to slaughter children in their schools and a guy in the White House fully a few threads short of a jumper.

Trailer – ‘Denial’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH7ktvUWaYo

Trailer ‘Their Finest = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMh1EvAQOQ8

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