Mick Jackson’s courtroom drama Denial focuses on the 1996 British libel suit brought by David Irving (Timothy Spall), the infamous Holocaust denier, against American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her publisher Penguin Books. Based on Lipstadt’s book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, and adapted for screen by David Hare, Denial offers some fascinating insights into Irving’s twisted logic and the intricacies of British law. When Irving claims that Lipstadt’s book had attempted to destroy his reputation as a historian, Lipstadt is shocked to discover that the burden of proof is on the defendant.
Lipstadt has a formidable team working for her, including leading libel barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), while Irving chooses to represent himself in the hope of gaining public sympathy for what he refers to as a “David vs. Goliath” conflict. Even if one doesn’t already know the outcome of this renowned legal case, it’s pretty obvious who is going to triumph from the outset and this drains a degree of tension from the judge’s deliberations. Wisely, Hare’s screenplay focuses on Lipstadt’s conflicts with her legal team’s strategies and their refusal to allow her or any Holocaust survivors to take the stand. They argue that Irving, rather than the Holocaust, should be on trial. Lipstadt believes that survivors should not be denied a voice.
Aside from shots of Lipstadt’s seminars with her students, her morning runs, meetings with lawyers and a poignant visit to the remains of Auschwitz with Rampton, Denial is set largely in and around court. There are some excellent performances – in particular from Spall as the slippery and odious denier and Wilkinson as the wine-loving barrister who proves disconcertingly sharp-witted. Given the alarming rise of far right xenophobia, a film that portrays this memorable defence against fascism and the rewriting of history, feels exceptionally timely. There are more than a few parallels to be drawn between the swagger and deviousness of Irving and another well known falsifier, President Trump.
Lucy Popescu| @lucyjpop