Denial

Director: Mick Jackson (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Book yourself a grandstand seat at the Old Bailey for this courtroom drama of international importance. Smartly crafted from a real case, it provides plenty of evidence that great writing, performance and direction make for gripping cinema.

Brit actress Rachel Weisz sports red hair and a US accent as forthright Jewish university lecturer, Deborah Lipstadt. It’s an impassioned performance fuelled by an unbending sense of moral certainty, full of  sharp intelligence, wit and determination.

There’s a very American feel to proceedings, with an emphasis on the sanctity of free speech and the virtues of jogging. Lawyers of course, are celebrated.

Deborah is forced to to come to London to defend herself when she is sued for libel by British historian and holocaust denier, David Irving.

Timothy Spall is magnificent as the self-taught and social climbing bigot on the make. Endowing him with charm, dignity and sincerity, Spall makes Irving’s reprehensible  arguments appear dangerously and falsely reasonable and seductive.

The case hinges on Irving’s denial of  the true purpose of Auschwitz. He claims the death camp in Nazi occupied Poland during the Second World War wasn’t geared for industrial genocide. The cost of Deborah losing will be Holocaust denial being legitimised by a court of law, potentially allowing for a legally backed downgrading of Nazi atrocities.

Various Characters are denied their voice in court, not least the vociferous Deborah who is frustrated at having to allow her barrister, Richard, to speak on her behalf. Tom Wilkinson is wry, irrascible and fond of red wine as her much experienced advocate.

There’s a strong supporting cast throughout, even if the presence of Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss from TV’s Sherlock occasionally lend the air of superior Sunday evening TV fare.

However a winter visit to Auschwitz offers some welcome visual gravitas and underlines the utter importance of the case. And when the verdict comes in, there’s no denying the audience is the winner.

Mr Turner

Director: Mike Leigh (2014)

Brilliant Timothy Spall was surprisingly overlooked by Oscar for his grunting, growling portrayal of superstar artist J.M.W.Turner.

This masterful biopic is a rich canvas covering the last 25 years of the genius’s life until his death aged 76.

Hangdog and whiskered, the man often hailed as Britain’s greatest ever painter is hard on his contemporaries, kind to his patrons and horrible to his servants and children.

With Spall dominant in the foreground, there is a wealth of emotional colour swirling around in the background to ponder.

Never married, Turner has complex relations with the many women in his life. He refuses to acknowledge the children he has with his former lover Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen) despite her constant appeals.

Meanwhile the artist regularly takes sexual advantage of his devoted housekeeper – and Sarah’s niece – Hannah Danby, played by Dorothy Atkinson.

After the death of his beloved father William (Paul Jesson) Londoner Turner goes to the Kent coast to stay in the Margate lodging house of Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey), a warm, gentle and touching bond develops, accelerating on the death of her husband.

Supremely confident in his creative talent, Turner takes pains to guard his place at the top of the intensely competitive art world.

With his sketchbook for company, he strides across landscapes, walks for miles along the coast and pays prostitutes to show him their bodies for anatomy lessons, we’re left to ponder at what else he may be paying for.

He even has himself tied to a ship’s mast in a storm to study the light. As his work becomes ever more revolutionary he is mocked by satirists, which hastens his decline.

Rich and famous, Turner is still hurt when a young Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert – philistines both – are too shallow to appreciate his art.

The gentle ending, the most heartbreaking of 2014, is all the more powerful for lacking sentimentality.