Director: Mick Jackson
Writers: David Hare (screenplay), Deborah Lipstadt (based on the book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier”
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall
In an age of outrageous assertions, Denial feels pertinent and grounded. Less Oscar-buzz, more pensive, well-delivered filmmaking.
Denial is the true story based on Deborah Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier when David Irving (Spall) sued Lipstadt (Weisz) for libel.
Remarkably, it’s the fact that Lipstadt called Irving a Holocaust denier which led to her being sued, especially when Irving has, indeed, denied that a mass extermination ever took place during the Second World War.
According to British law, in a libel case, the burden of proof is on the defendant, something which Lipstadt finds extraordinary. She has to prove that Irving knew he was lying when he states that the Holocaust didn’t occur along with her lead solicitor, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), and barrister, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson).
Rampton is austere and often abrasive, the perfect foil to the swish and charismatic Julius. In fact, it’s Rampton’s cold pursuit of facts that rile Lipstadt when, on a visit to Auschwitz, his apparent lack of reverence for the atrocities which took place at the Nazi death camp shakes the scholar so much she doubts his commitment to the case against her. Her resolve is tested further when, back in London, the British Jewish community plead with her to settle out of court to avoid further giving Irving more publicity.
In an astonishing move, Irving is goaded by the defense team into agreeing for a judge-only trial, instead of having a jury which they felt would give credence to Irving’s wild claims. It’s apparent that, with this and Irving’s insistence on representing himself during the trial, that he is a deeply arrogant individual.
Lipstadt is tested further when she is approached by a Holocaust survivor who pleads to be heard during the trial. The legal team are insistent that neither Lipstadt herself or any survivors will testify during the trial as it would only give more focus to Irving’s spurious claims.
The trial starts disasterously when Irving, taking advantage of the lack of photographic and recorded evidence which were all destroyed in the days before the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, claims that there were no holes in the roofs of the gas chambers for the Zyklon B gas crystals to be introduced, creating the tabloid soundbite “No holes, no
Lipstadt again, is insistent that the survivors should be able to take the stand until Julius shows her footage of when Irving previously subjected another survivor to a humiliating cross-examination, furthering his image as an alternative historian in far-right circles.
In a brilliant move, Rampton exposes the holes in Irving’s case using cold, hard logic. When in Auschwitz, he had paced the length and breadth of the camp to measure the distance between the living quarters of the Nazis and the gas chambers, which Irving claimed to be bomb shelters. Rampton, exposing Irving’s ridiculous claims for what they are, calmly asks why the Nazis would have shelters miles from where they slept.
Denial is a slow moving vehicle. This isn’t a bad thing. After all, this is a film about a real-life trial. It moves at an agonising pace, but this helps create and support the frustration that surrounds Irving and his assertions. He’s a pompous and shameless self-promoting bigot with a dangerous agenda and it’s almost impossible to yank every hair from your head when you realise that his particular brand of tripe is being debated in a court of law, when it belongs in the bin.
Rachel Weisz delivers a solid performance as Deborah Lipstadt, even if the character is slightly frustrating. She’s rightly invested and emotional about the Holocaust and is entirely justified in her anger at having to defend herself from Irving’s laughable claims. However, it’s hard not to be impatient at Linstadt’s impatience. We know she’s right and Irving is wronger than wrong.
Wilkinson is excellent as the seemingly untouched barrister. His ability to switch from methodical to courtroom showman is joyous is a film with such little joy.
Andrew Scott is marvelous as the sometimes slippery but enjoyably charming solicitor Julius.
It’s nothing short of a tragedy that Deborah Lipstadt had to go to court to defend herself and even more of a catastrophe that Irving got his day on one. However, it’s vital that it should remembered how ridiculous the legal system can be and how the David Irving’s of this world will try to exploit them for their own agenda. Denial is a perfect way to do