Of all the atrocities in history, the Holocaust is by all accounts is the most documented, examined, and popularized. It is taught in history, read in literature courses, and some schools even have Schindler’s List as a required viewing in class. So when you hear that some people deny that it ever happened—or downplay the extent of it—you gotta scratch your head and wonder why so much hate could ever make you deny the attempts to exterminate an entire people. Thus enters Mick Jackson’s Denial, a film that digs into the subject, and in the process produces an exemplary courtroom drama that also mirrors a certain Presidential candidate a little too well.
Most surprising of all about a film that makes you worry that in a case of libel against a Holocaust denier, the denier will win, is that it actually takes place in the 90s and early 00s. Following the real life (and based on memoirs) of Deborah Lipstadt, Denial, portrays the struggles of Lipstadt’s legal battle with Holocaust denier David Irving, who after a staged encounter at one of her Q&A’s, sues her for libel based on one of her books.
Taking charge is the charismatic Rachel Weisz, who portrays Lipstadt with determination and heart, though her determination grows a little annoying as she ignores the helpful advice of her legal advisors who want nothing more than to get her the victory. Her counterpart, the Trumpian (how I wish this wasn’t really a means to describe someone) Timothy Spall as David Irving, is a shrewd, headline-seeking man who runs his mouth and then denies he ever said anything.
Sound familiar? Due to the timing of this film, I think it’s supposed to…
So the two square off in England’s court system, to which Irving knows well. In contrast to American courts—where in a libel charge the burden of proof falls on the accuser—British court system places that burden on the accused, meaning Lipstadt actually has to prove that the Holocaust happened and that Irving purposefully altered facts to further his political ideas.
Anyone going into the movie might scoff at the premise itself, because how could the Holocaust not have happened? Well, Jackson does a suitable job at making you doubt that Lipstadt will actually come out on top despite the overwhelming evidence that the Holocaust actually freaking happened. This proves to be the film’s greatest strength because without it, there would be nothing to compel us to see it through to the end…though we all probably doubted that Trump would get this far in the election process, but let’s not get into that.
Spall is the true standout here, even though Weisz continues to prove her extreme talent as an actress. Not a stranger to the lesser-sides of humanity, Spall manages to weasel himself just a little further down into the depravity of what mankind has become now that we have a form of an outlet for this sort of hatred. Despicable doesn’t even cut it as he tries to actually debunk that the Holocaust led to the deaths of millions (as he will argue there were probably significantly less casualties) all while standing as a voice for far-right extremist groups that praise Hitler’s policies and governance. Spall’s Irving represents something much more than an annoyance and lawsuit—he is the lowest form of humanity that denies facts in favor of skewed views of history just to further his stance in a minority that supports him like a deity.
Though there are some annoyances and unnecessary moments to be had, Denial proves to be a perfectly adequate courtroom drama if only highlighted by two stellar performances. It’s just a shame this mirrors modern events a little too scarily.