Dir: Mick Jackson, 2016
Based on Deborah Lipstadt’s non-fiction book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, this cinematic representation begs the question “how free should free speech be?”.
American professor and lecturer, Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), is a renowned expert on the Holocaust.
On the publication of her latest book, Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt incurs the wrath of world famous historian and Holocaust denier, David Irving (Timothy Spall), by printing, what he alleges are, libelous comments about him.
Irving issues a libel suit against Lipstadt, and a David and Goliath battle in the court, ensues.
Denial is a pretty good courtroom drama. It addresses several points around censorship, freedom of speech and the British justice system.
But it’s let down by its own hypocrisy and uncertainty as to whether we should actually root for Lipstadt.
There is no denying that David Irving has a seriously obscured vision of Nazi Germany. A prominent Holocaust denier, Irving has written books with a sense of sympathy and empathy to Hitler and the Nazi regime.
His evidence to support the non-existent genocide of millions of Jews in World War II, is flimsy and transparent at best and, in Mr. Justice Grey’s ruling, fabricated at worst.
It’s clear that David Irving is the villain of the film. A man so deluded, he genuinely believes that Hitler had nothing to do with any extermination, or that any took place.
Timothy Spall is one of the finest actors that Britain has produced and can portray any character or emotion that is asked of him. It’s a far cry from his days on Auf Wiedersehen, Pet!.
He doesn’t look anything like the real life Irving but, in the context of the film, he’s superb.
The whole cast are brilliant in their roles, with special mention to Tom Wilkinson as Richard Rampton, a powerhouse of a performance as Lipstadt’s barrister.
Rachel Weisz dons a highly convincing American accent, and does her best as Lipstadt.
But, it’s the characterisation of the American author that lets the film down.
Lipstadt is depicted as being, arrogant and disrespectful to the British legal way and ignorant, nay, insulting to the court and judge.
This causes a confrontation in the film, as director Jackson, clearly, wants us to cheer for the defence, and boo the nasty ogre. Wanting to have his cake and eat it, the director allows Irving to conduct himself with decorum, regardless of how inane his views are and Lipstadt with insolence, despite her sound and lucid argument for the Holocaust’s existence.
As a whole, Denial is contradictory in its message. Lipstadt purports to champion free speech but wants to silence people if it doesn’t fit the general consensus to which she subscribes.
The film adds more emotion to the case, making it more than about libel. There is no doubt, whatsoever, that the trial would have a very painful impact to survivors of the Holocaust, and would find David Irving’s refusal to believe in the massacre vile and abhorrent.
To solicit a feeling of justice from the viewer, the director shifts the focus of Lipstad’s courtcase from being a defence against the charge of libel to one of defending every person who was a victim of the Holocaust, dead or alive.
There are some increasingly heartwrenching moments while Lipstadt and Rampton tour the remains of Auschwitz. An exhibit of clothes and personal belongings of those murdered by the Germans is housed at the site and delivers, with more than the might of a boxer’s glove, a punch to the stomach with repercussions that will linger for days.
It’s a grim reminder of a terrible time and from the first person to enter the gas chamber to Judgement Day, is one that will never be forgiven or forgotten.
Denial doesn’t, outright, condemn Irving for holding his views. It certainly shows his ignorance, but stops short of vilifying him.
By refusing to crucify the denier, the film is rooting for freedom of speech, regardless how idiotic that speech is.
This had all the makings of a superb courtroom drama but, instead, goes for cheap shots when it realises that the potential was not used abundantly.
An okay drama, but not one you would want to revisit.