Based On A True Story: ‘Denial’ (2017) Review

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Keeva Stratton

Film Expert

An academic historian is brought to trial when accused of defaming a Holocaust denier. She finds herself not only having to defend her work, but also the victims of the Holocaust itself, in this true, and undeniably disturbing, story.

denial

In 1993, American Professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) publishes a book Denying the Holocaust, in which she names David Irving (Spall) as a Holocaust denier. He, in turn, sues her for libel under British law, which places her in the difficult position of having the burden of proof.

Lipstadt must prove Irving intentionally chose to misrepresent historical evidence, so as to deliberately mislead his readers into believing the Holocaust never took place. It would take nearly a decade.

Lipstadt’s task to prove her innocence risks calling into question the evidence surrounding the Holocaust itself, much of which has been destroyed by the Nazis in the final weeks of the war.

Should she fail to prove he is wrong, Lipstadt risks unintentionally opening the door to delegitimising one of the greatest atrocities of all time. Naturally, there is pressure for her to settle, but her conscience tells her the truth must come out.

Her natural drive to testify and allow the victims of the Holocaust to tell their story, is quickly dismissed by her legal team. They see too much risk in allowing witnesses to be questioned and their stories critiqued. Instead, the Professor is asked to do something she finds incredibly difficult; to stay silent.

She must trust that her legal team is using the right tactic to overcome the litany of lies presented by her challenger. While he continues to spout outrageous and offensive claims about history, she must resist her every urge to engage him in a sparring match, in order to see a greater justice restored.

Denial is an intensely powerful courtroom drama that brings to life one of the more interesting and significant recent legal battles. As we are taken on a journey through the horrors of Auschwitz, the frightening reminder that hatred and racism is still present in our world comes to the fore.

Weisz is excellent as Lipstadt, but Timothy Spall as the audacious and self-righteous David Irving is equal to her measure. And with the guiding hand of Tom Wilkinson, playing Lipstad’s resolute barrister—we have a stellar cast that delivers standout performances.

So much of this story is chilling, from the thousands of empty shoes at Auschwitz whose owners never made it, to the frightful way evil people can use our justice systems to promote their own perspective and gain unprecedented publicity.

When films choose to remind us of the moments we’d like to forget—and do so brilliantly—they also serve to illustrate how few people it takes to create a wave of horror and destruction. Denial is a fantastic film, and a timely reminder of the need to stand collectively against prejudice and racism.

 

Director: Mick Jackson

Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott

Runtime: 110 mins

Release Date: April 13

Rating: M

Reviewer Rating: 4/5

Video via Youtube

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