Director: Mick Jackson
Screenwriter: David Hare
Runtime: 109 mins
Australian release date: 13 May 2017
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney on 5 May 2017
Talk about a film for its times!
Based on Deborah Lipstadt’s memoir, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier”, David Hare’s screenplay of Denial clearly shows how history can be re-interpreted by individuals if they’re determined to believe “alternative facts”. Sound like any ‘leader of the free world’ you know? In this case, Denial is a perfect title and it’s ably directed for the screen by British director Mick Jackson, whose background is mainly in television.
David Irving (Timothy Spall) is a British historian who filed an unsuccessful libel case against Jewish/American author Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and Penguin Books in 1996, claiming he had been defamed in her book Denying the Holocaust. The Court, however, concluded that he deliberately misrepresented historical facts relating to Hitler and the use of gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps and was an anti-Semite and racist. Irving had argued that the deaths were due to uncontainable outbreaks of typhus within the confines of the camps, rather than as a result of deliberate policies to exterminate the Jews. Timothy Spall’s depiction of Irving is compelling viewing. He is convincing as a man who firmly believes the Holocaust never happened, despite first-hand confirmation in the testimonies of camp survivors. It’s been affirmed that Hitler wouldn’t allow cameras inside the gas chambers, thus ensuring there’d never be a pictorial record of the atrocities and this was one of Irving’s arguments: Where was the physical evidence?
Tom Wilkinson portrays the barrister Richard Rampton QC, who argued the case on behalf of Lipstadt’s British solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), well-known to the English public for his handling of Princess Diana’s divorce. Rampton’s measured and detailed approach to the proceedings was so forensic that he was able to put Irving into a corner from which there was no escape. Lipstadt is played effectively by Weisz, who handles not only her character’s Jewish/American accent with ease but also her frustration with English libel law, which presumed her guilty unless she could prove herself innocent. A passionate, feisty woman, she had to take a back seat during the proceedings for strategic reasons, which didn’t sit easily with her. Simultaneously, she was being pursued by Holocaust survivors who were willing to take the stand but were not allowed to do so for fear that Irving would tear them down with his vicious rhetoric, and both these constraints caused Lipstadt to rail against her legal team.
Denial is a moving film that makes for uncomfortable viewing, particularly the scenes at the now desolate Auschwitz/Birkenau death camp. These images are a stark reminder - lest we forget - that over six million people were slaughtered by a political movement which manipulated the truth for its own dark motives. It’s a reminder that, if people have fallen for propaganda before, they could perhaps fall for it again.