It is astounding that someone could actually deny that the Holocaust happened. And yet, this new movie is the true story of one such famous encounter.
Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) was an author who focused her attention on the Holocaust, specifically on those who might deny the event took place. She wrote a book on the subject. However, at one of her lectures about the topic, she is ambushed by David Irving (Timothy Spall), a vocal denier of the Holocaust. Irving specifically had stated that Hitler had never ordered the extermination of any Jewish people.
Irving’s publicity stunt was just the start of the trouble, though. He sued Deborah for libel for comments she had made about him in her book. What was worse was that he sued her in the British courts, where the burden of proof was on Deborah, not on him.
What followed was the court case, led by a team of lawyers hired by Penguin Press, including Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkerson). The case strategy was not what Deborah had imagined. Her lawyers intended on making the trial about Irving, not about any Holocaust survivors or about Deborah.
Being very outspoken, this strategy was challenging for Deborah, as she rallied against it on several occasions.
The film had several very strong performances among its cast of stellar actors. Both Weisz and Wilkerson were excellent in their quirky roles, bringing life to these people. Andrew Scott was very subdued and restrained, almost to an nth degree. But I found the most compelling performance to be had by Timothy Spall. Spall had the difficult assignment of playing a remarkably unlikable man, whose thoughts and words were bordering on hate speech, and yet, he made him a rounded individual. The scene of him lovingly playing with his young daughter was downright chilling.
The other scene that really brought chills was the scenes at Auschwitz concentration camp. The monumental horrors that occurred at that place is staggering to any right thinking individual and just the manner in which the gas chamber was described to Richard and Deborah by Professor Robert Jan van der Pelt (played perfectly by Sherlock’s Mark Gatniss in a small but compelling role).
Now, the film is not perfect by any stretch. It did feel long and the middle section dragged on quite a bit. Many of the courtroom scenes felt very real, but, because of that, lacked that normal dramatic flair that would accompany courtroom films. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it did slow down this film a lot.
There were also characters introduced that were intended to tug on the heart strings and really did not have any other purpose to the overall narrative. These moments felts too manipulative and not needed.
However, the film documents an important trial in world history, bringing to light once again the travesty that had befell the proud Jewish people, who simply want the dead to be remembered and to be given a voice. Denial does a good job of that.