Truth on Trial (Film Review: “Denial”)

The factual story of the courtroom case that put historical denial on trial – in this case the Holocaust – with Truth trumping Conspiracy once and for all.


SnapShot Plot

There are few things in the course of human history more sacrosanct than the Holocaust. And a myriad of reasons why this is so. Top of mind, there’s the staggering number of Jews (and others) methodically persecuted, tortured and exterminated, as well as the vast geographic and national borders within which this systematic brutality was exacted, plus the protracted period of time in which it took place. Couple that with it’s relatively modern place in time, in the most civilized European society on earth and what you’re left with is Evil in its most obscene and unadulterated nakedness.

In Denial, (a terrific courtroom drama based on an actual case in Great Britain),  Rachel Weisz shines as American historian Deborah Lipstadt, whose writings and teachings (at Emory University) focused on the thorny topic of Holocaust denial. In her famous 1993 book, entitled Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Lipstadt singled out the grand-standing Hitler sympathizer and Holocaust denier, David Irving for his failure to let facts stand in the way of his increasingly disturbing anti-Semitic attitudes, thereby throwing the scientific method clear under the bus. He sued her in Great Britain for libel. This was significant because unlike the American court system, the British courts do not exist within an assumption of innocence. On the contrary, the burden of proof rests squarely on the shoulders of the defendant to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. When Lipstadt decided to fight back, she soon realized that in order to win she had to resign herself not only to this seemingly bizarre and unfair system of law, but also that she had to relegate herself to being a silent and passive player throughout the entire court case, which dragged on and on.

Timothy Spall delivers an unnerving and fascinating portrait of David Irving, who actually represented himself at trial. Lipstadt’s solicitor and barrister (you’ll discover the difference) are played brilliantly and unsentimentally by Andrew Scott and the (always) magnificent Tom Wilkinson. Between the facts and these brilliant performances, Denial becomes a nail biter straight through to the dramatic ending.



Parting Shot

It’s so gratifying that director, Mick Jackson has made a film as finely crafted as this, relying on the gravitas of the real story itself (after all, we know how it ended) to sustain a realistic tension and suspense, as the trial itself took shape and wound to its actual climax. The screenplay was co-written by the renowned writer/director, David Hare and Deborah Lipstadt herself, based on her memoir from the trial, entitled, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” In fact, both Hare and Lipstadt were careful to recreate the courtroom testimony as close to the actual proceedings as humanly possible for the screenplay. And why? Because that’s what happened. The trial, like the Holocaust itself, is not open to interpretation. We are living in interesting times, with unprecedented powers of technology at our fingertips. To survive intact into the future we must learn from the past, not reinvent or revise it according to political gain or personal whim. That’s how civilizations either last or fall into the dust-heap of history.

Denial is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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