One cannot help muse that the defiant, deluded Holocaust denier, David Irving, must have been duped into thinking the case he brought against Penguin Books and their author, Deborah Lipstadt, was going to be heard by Jewry rather than a jury when he agreed that the matter be adjudicated by a judge alone.
Of course, the truth of the matter is brilliantly argued in the astonishingly gripping court room drama, DENIAL.
After historian Deborah Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory is published in the UK, she is shocked to learn that British author David Irving, a prolific writer of texts on World War II, is suing her for libel. Even more surprising to the American academic, under UK libel laws she is presumed guilty unless she can prove herself innocent. Lipstadt finds herself in the position of not only defending herself, but establishing beyond a doubt that the Holocaust took place.
Passionate, fiery and independent, Lipstadt refuses to settle the case and demands her day in court. With the cards solidly stacked against her, Lipstadt’s British legal team, led by solicitor Anthony Julius, (famous for being briefed by Princess Diana in her divorce proceedings), and barrister Richard Rampton, presents her with a confounding strategy: neither she nor any Holocaust survivors will be called to the stand.
Based on Lipstadt’s book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial (previously published as History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier), the film has the great good fortune of being penned by David Hare.
The script is a skilfully crafted gem that landscapes woolly legal terrain into an accessible lay person perimeters.
DENIAL value adds its great good fortune by boasting a brilliant cast headed by the incomparable Rachel Weisz as the indomitable Deborah Lipstadt. Her inherent integrity is superbly contrasted by Timothy Spall as the despicable and discredited David Irving, a consummate characterisation of a conniving narcissist.
Casting perfection is continued with Andrew Scott as Anthony Julius and Tom Wilkinson as brilliant barrister, Richard Rampton.
British-born film maker Mick Jackson was chosen to direct DENIAL on the strength of an extensive résumé that includes major box-office hits (The Bodyguard), an Emmy winning TV movie (Temple Grandin), and a string of highly regarded documentaries and dramas for the BBC and Britain’s Channel 4.
“I started out in documentaries,” says Jackson. “I have a feeling for what’s real and I like shooting in that style. I try to shoot as much hand-held as I can and keep things very fluid. Deborah’s book was perfect for me. I loved her attention to the smallest details, like who sat where in the courtroom or the colour of Richard Rampton’s tie.”
The director was also drawn to the timeliness of the film’s subject matter. “We live in an age of non reason and lies, an age of violent outrages and all kinds of assaults on the truth. When I was a very young director at the BBC, I worked on a landmark series of documentaries called The Ascent of Man. We shot an episode at Auschwitz. Just being there touched me in a profound way. When this script came my way, I thought, ‘I have to do it.’”
According to the director, the film’s title has a double meaning. “To win this case, which is about Holocaust denial, Deborah will have to deny herself the glory of standing up in court and speaking to this monster,” he says. “That act of self-denial is her only hope of beating Irving’s charges.”
With its indelible images of barbed wire that seems to be weeping, DENIAL is a beautifully poignant Easter offering.