In 1993, American writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) published “Denying the Holocaust“, in which she claimed that disgraced British historian and Hitler supporter David Irving (Timothy Spall) manipulated facts and events from the Holocaust to fit his own agenda and views on the event.
In the following years, Lipstadt would address crowds and discuss her many opinions on Holocaust denial, and made a clear point that she does not engage with those who don’t believe it happened. During one particular lecture in Atlanta 1994, Irving snuck into the room and attacked Lipstadt about her views on him.
That was the first meeting between Lipstadt and Irving, however the pair would go on to see a lot more of each other, after Irving sued Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for libel. After years of preparation and deliberation, the court case would go ahead in London in 2000, where the laws state that Lipstadt, despite defending her case, would have to prove her statements true.
These events which took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s were the basis for the Hollywood film ‘Denial’, which recently hit cinemas across the country.
Lipstadt heads to London, to meet with lawyer Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and his team in preparation for the case. Despite the strong team behind her, Julius takes Lipsadt to meet with Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), who would represent her in the trial.
Throughout the film, audiences are met with a conflicted Lipstadt, who at times is in major disagreeance with her legal team. Most notably, she insists on herself and Holocaust survivors testifying in court, however both ideas are shut down, with Rampton explaining he didn’t want to give Irving any power to degrade her or the survivors and humiliate them and that he did not want to put the Holocaust on trial. Despite her initial resentment towards Rampton for his decision, as the case goes on she learns his decision was ultimately the right one.
Years of preparation and research led to the beginning of the trial in early 2000. Julius convinced Irving to agree to put the case in front of a single judge, Sir Charles Grey (Alex Jennings), and not have a jury present.
While there was plenty of back and fourth between Irving, who represented himself, and Lipstadt’s legal team, Rampton successfully began to put the pressure on Irving, who was often found contradicting himself (by claiming he wasn’t a racist, as he proceeded to teach his young daughter anti-Semitic jingles) and he was caught out of changing multiple facts between version one and two of his book, Hitler’s War.
Two months of deliberation followed the trial, before the entire case was brought back to London for the final verdict. Lipstadt was found not guilty of libel, with Rampton providing enough evidence to support the claims she made about Irving being a liar, and manipulating the facts of history to suit his own agenda.
Over 15 years on from the famous trial, and writer David Hare perfectly captures the essence and drama of the events that took place. The film was written in collaboration with Lipstadt’s recount of the trial, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier“, published in 2006.
Weisz was outstanding in her role as Deborah Lipstadt, capturing the powerful figure and strong woman the historian is. The passion and emotion shines through in her performance, and the Academy Award winner was not alone. Her brilliant acting is complemented by the exceptional performances of award nominated Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall and Andrew Scott. Together, the four characters bring the story to life, and their interactions with each other are electric, and so realistic at times audiences may think they’re watching a documentary.
The film features a chilling visit to Auschwitz. Lipstadt accompanies Prof. Robert Jan Van Pelt (Mark Gatiss), Rampton, his assistant Heather (Jackie Clune) and Julius to the concentration camp to conduct research for the case. Visiting in the middle of winter, the grounds are covered by snow and the air is hazy and frosted. Captured in the visit is the two giant piles of shoes, symbolising those who lost their lives in Auschwitz, and a couple of quick visions show naked bodies being gassed to death in the chambers. The graphic footage intertwining with the deserted grounds of the camp throws an eerie and slightly traumatic feel on the visit, and overall an unforgettable scene from the film.
While the film is only 1 hour and 49 minutes long, the intensity is with audiences from start to finish. Despite the heavy content, it is captivating and the film keeps our interest until the very end.
There is certainly no Denial about the brilliance of the film, packed with powerful acting performances and a look into one of the most intense court cases, and amazing stories in the last 20 years.