Denial tells the story of notorious Holocaust denier David Irving’s 1996 libel case against Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, when he accused her of harming his professional reputation by calling his denialist history into question. Sounds hard to believe? It’s a true story. A Holocaust historian was forced to defend her position, and prove that the Holocaust happened, in a British court of law.
Sadly, denying the Holocaust is not a crime in itself in England (as opposed to a number of other countries where it is a criminal and imprisonable offence). But damaging someone’s reputation in writing (libel) is. And, here’s the real kicker, under British law the onus was on the defendant (Lipstadt) to prove that the Holocaust happened, and that Irving deliberately lied about it.
Sounds complicated? Don’t worry about it. You do not need to be a legal graduate to watch this film. It is a gripping legal thriller, but somehow this film is about much more than a libel case between two historians. It’s about the pursuit of truth and fighting for those who suffered and are no longer here to tell their stories.
Rachel Weisz gives a deeply convincing and nuanced performance as Deborah Lipstadt, one worthy of an Oscar nod. I was really taken aback by Rachel Weisz’s performance of a lifetime as the fearless, crusading Lipstadt. If I ever get painted into a corner, I want her on my team. And we should not overlook Timothy Spall as David Irving, a chilling portrayal of a dangerous man with an even more dangerous ideology.
While this isn’t a film most people would choose to watch on a Friday night at the cinema (there are no car chases or explosions), it is an important film that is very much worth seeing. It seems increasingly important to watch this film today, especially with the Far Right and Extremism on the rise. It’s the sort of thriller that will perform very well at DVD release and on streaming services.
When I booked my tickets to see this film, at the back of my mind were the words of my Grandfather – the Nazis weren’t all dead at the end of the war, they just went home and took off their uniforms. Now, they’re just harder to spot. And their poisonous ideology survives wherever there is racism, antisemitism, or denial. He was right.