Denial review – overwhelmingly relevant assertion of truth

As flat-earthery returns to the world, this drama about a historian’s pursual through the UK justice system by a Holocaust denier is refreshing and very pertinent

In 1996, the historian Deborah Lipstadt was pursued in the UK courts by the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, for calling him a falsifier of history in her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. This movie version of those events, written for the screen by David Hare and directed by Mick Jackson, stars Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt and Timothy Spall as Irving; it has been coolly received by some on the festival circuit, its drama dismissed as stagey and flat. I disagree. For me, it has clarity, urgency and overwhelming relevance. Because denial is fashionable again. Irving himself is gloating at the way “alt–right” fascists are threatening to make him and his poisonous flat-earthery acceptable once more. The US president himself believes in “alternative facts”. So for me this film, telling its story with punchy commitment and force, was a breath of fresh air.

Weisz plays the professional historian who is astonished to find that people expect her to debate on equal terms with sinister deniers – while no one would dream of asking Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin to share a podium or TV studio with someone who believed the moon landings were faked. Irving, played with tremendous oleaginous complacency by Spall, disrupts her lectures and sues for libel in the British courts, which favour the plaintiff. Weisz retains the solicitor Anthony Julius, a cool customer well played by Andrew Scott, who plans a shrewd legal tactic that involves the case being heard in front of a judge, with no jury, to minimise Irving’s theatricals. Julius has to actually ask Irving in the presence of the judge (Alex Jennings) if he is agreeable to this, on the grounds that a jury of laypersons would not be able to get to grips with the case’s complex technicalities. Irving assents and Scott and Spall cleverly show how Irving is fatally snared by this appeal to his intellectual and social vanity. The issues at stake are thrashed out with what is, occasionally, something other than subtlety. But it is always to the point. I find this film and its clear-headed premise rewarding. This reasserts the primacy of truth. What a tonic.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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