DIRECTED BY MICK JACKSON/2016
Screenwriter David Hare (The Hours) adapts the acclaimed book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” by Deborah E. Lipstadt, to present the true story of one woman’s efforts to defend herself, and by extension also argue that the Holocaust happened.
Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a well-regarded college professor in Atlanta, Georgia who has also written extensively on the Holocaust, as well as taking on those who would seek to argue that the Holocaust was simply a way for Jews to get momentum for their own homeland in the the throes of World War II. What she won’t do, however, is debate a Holocaust denier in public. Not because she is frightened by the prospect, but because she sees it as a fruitless exercise that is not likely to change such a person’s mind.
One Holocaust denier she has taken on in her books is pseudo-academic David Irving (Timothy Spall). He has taken this very personally, showing up to embarrass Deborah at a speaking engagement. Capturing it on video, he sets a trap for her, culminating in him bringing a libel suit against her for what she wrote about him, only the trial will be in Great Britain. Under British Law, however, the burden of proof is not on the one bringing the charges, but upon the accused. Deborah finds herself having to hire the best attorneys to effectively prove what she wrote about David Irving’s denial was accurate, and to do that, she must prove the Holocaust was real. This will also force her to effectively do what she swore she would never do, and that is debate a Holocaust denier.
If Denial has any purpose at all, it is in being a reminder that the world must never forget what took place during World War II. The Holocaust is important, not just because of the systematic destruction of one race of people, and many others, by the Nazi regime, but because it serves as a reminder of what devastating destruction mankind is truly capable of.
Denial features an all-star cast of Academy Award nominees and winners in Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, and Tom Wilkinson. Director Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) isn’t able to elevate the script above a good made-for-television movie. That is not to say that the film is without merit, just that it doesn’t quite make the overall impact that it should given its subject matter, its cast, and its real-life courtroom drama. Some of this can be blamed for the dryness of the British legal system where they have to explain the difference between a barrister and a solicitor. Despite these shortcomings, there is something in this film that deserves to be seen.
The main outrage, and the sad reality, of this film is that despite the mountains of evidence, there are many who still continue to deny the Holocaust. As the film demonstrates, there are volumes of paperwork gathered from the Nazis (despite much being destroyed), the death camps, ariel photography from spy planes at the time, the mountains of belongs piled up from the victims of this genocide, and most importantly the testimony of the victims themselves.
When Barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) is recruited to present the case by Deborah’s solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), he does a curious thing. Instead of using all of this evidence at his disposal to take on David Irving, he decides to try the case from a scientific point of view. This means flying to Auschwitz and examining the remains of the famed death camp and comparing it to the evidence such as the photography of the crematoriums to see if there is still evidence of the openings that housed the poisonous gas that was pumped into the showers and the like. David Irving contends that there were no openings, but that the photography shows shadows. He holds that there is zero evidence that Hitler directly ordered any systemic killings, and that the high mortality rate of Jews was due to a severe outbreak of lice that the Nazis had to deal with to keep it from spreading.
As we see in the film, from this trial that took place in the early part of the 21st century, much of this type of thinking is gaining more ground as we get further away from the events that took place in Europe so long ago. Curiously, Richard Rampton chose not to give a voice to those who could directly refute what David Irving was contending, and that is the survivors themselves. Instead, he asks Deborah Lipstadt to trust him, as she is being overwhelmed with her desire to give a voice to the survivors. We also see how emotional she is over this subject and why she never would debate deniers in person. It is hard for someone with so much at stake emotionally and who is a fighter naturally to trust someone else to fight on their behalf, especially with different methods.
If Denial has any purpose at all, it is in being a reminder that the world must never forget what took place during World War II. The Holocaust is important, not just because of the systematic destruction of one race of people, and many others, by the Nazi regime, but because it serves as a reminder of what devastating destruction mankind is truly capable of. In light of the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides in the 1990’s, to the destructive systematic killings of ISIS against Christians, and their fellow Muslims who don’t adopt their radical ideology, we cannot forget. Denial does provide us a story that demonstrates the importance of why all of this matters to us today, and that is something we cannot deny.