Rachel Weisz stars as the American author Deborah Lipstadt and Timothy Spall as Hitler historian David Irving in this true life adaptation of the 1996 Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt libel case.
The defamation charge came about after Lipstadt, argued that Irving is a Holocaust denier, falsifier and bigot in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust.
Weisz’s Lipstadt seems to start off on a collision course with her legal team. She is baffled by the British legal system, which places the burden of proof on the defendant in libel trials. She objects to their decision to minimise her involvement, fearing her forthright manner will harm the case. Surveying her legal teams’ oak-lined chambers, she remarks ‘Dickensian I can live with. Kafkaesque is a different matter.’
Spall depicts Irving as a manipulative and dishonest man who displays a rat-like cunning. He begins full of bonhomie and cheer, speaking freely to the press whilst Lipstadt is shepherded away. As the case progresses, Irving increasingly ties himself up in knots trying to prove his assertions. At one point Irving argues he is not a racist, only for the court to play video of his speeches to far-right organisations demonstrating exactly the opposite.
A clearer portrait of a man who has mistaken real life for his own version of it is harder to imagine.
However, the film could have benefited from being allowed to breathe a little more freely. Lipstadt is set up as somewhat antagonistic, but as the story progresses she develops increasing respect for her legal team, particularly her barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson). This could have benefited by being more fully developed. Equally, I would have welcomed the chance to see more of the trial itself.
These provisos aside, Denial proves to be a fascinating and powerful exploration of this landmark case which put history on trial.