Courtroom drama about Holocaust deniers feels powerfully relevant.
In 1996, American academic Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, were sued by British Holocaust denier David Irving, who claimed that her criticism of him tarnished his reputation. Due to British libel law, the burden was placed on Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) to prove that Irving’s (Timothy Spall) ludicrous denials of the Holocaust are false.
Yes, this is real life.
Throughout Denial, Mick Jackson’s direction is restrained, echoing the deliberately unemotive and forensic tactics employed by Lipstadt’s legal team (Andrew Scott, Tom Wilkinson). Attempting to minimise publicity and emotional damage, they avoid putting Lipstadt herself or any Holocaust survivors on the stand. For the passionate and outspoken Lipstadt, this apparent act of silencing is deeply frustrating.
The tension plays out brilliantly during the legal team’s visit to Auschwitz. Shot in effectively chilling silence, the weight of the site’s history is almost unbearable. But while Lipstadt is overwhelmed, her legal team have to analyse and debate whether the ruins actually offer any physical proof of the Holocaust. It’s simultaneously necessary for the case, and innately outrageous.
Jackson’s restraint can come at the expense of character development, as we don’t really get to know any of the characters outside of the courtroom.
However, by keeping the focus on the courtroom machinations, Jackson allows the modern relevancy of the case to permeate. As Lipstadt’s counsel has to remind her, the case itself is not about proving the existence of the Holocaust, but about the responsibility and power of free speech, and legally distinguishing between truth and self-serving hate. The arguments regarding “balance” in reporting feel painfully prescient, as does the pressure placed on Lipstadt to settle the case to avoid publicising Irving’s work. Finally, Irving’s refusal to accept that he is indeed a racist despite speaking to neo-Nazis and inciting bigotry will pack a punch in the month Trump is inaugurated.
As we enter the reign of a “post-truther”, Denial proves irrefutably powerful.