Review: Denial (Movie 2016)

An interesting dramatisation of the libel trial in which Holocaust denier David Irving sued American academic Deborah Lipstadt for libel.

In 1993 Deborah Lipstadt published the book Denying the Holocaust, an approachable but detailed discussion of Holocaust denial as a phenomenon and the major players in Holocaust denial circles. David Irving, a self-taught military historian with some scholarly reputation but also a Hitler apologist, objected to Lipstadt’s description of him as a Holocaust denier. As Lipstadt’s book had been published in the UK, Irving was able to sue Lipstadt and Penguin Books in a British court.

The film charts the course of this legal conflict with the ever capable Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt and the ever watchable Timothy Spall as David Irving.

There are several good performances including Tom Wilkinson as Lipstadt’s barrister Richard Rampton and Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock) as Lipstadt’s celebrity solicitor Andrew Julius.

Yet…although parts are both moving and informative, the film often lacks tension and real drama – in part because the reality is like that sometimes. An attempt to create some real tension over whether Lipstadt will testify personally (spoiler: she doesn’t) creates a weird arc which makes the whole film feel like its underlying message is ‘listen to your lawyer & barrister who are really smart men and will be proved right in the end’. Well, I suppose that is true if you are trapped in a complex libel case in a British court but doesn’t make for a good drama. So there is no High Noon showdown between Lipstadt and Irving.

Likewise, the long case – often caught in minutiae of whether Irving was simply mistaken on an issue or whether he was deliberately lying about history – does not play out along the lines of film courtroom dramas. Again, because court cases don’t actually work the way they do in film.

A good film but not a great film. A worthy attempt to dramatise an interesting and important issue but maybe not a story that suits the medium very well.