Denial: The Holocaust on Trial

Rachel Weisz stars as acclaimed writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt in DENIAL, a Bleecker Street release. Photo credit: Laurie Sparham / Bleecker Street.

Denial is the true story of Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt’s court battle during 1996-2000 with a Holocaust denier.

The film’s release would have been perfect if it had come out closer to Yom HaShoah. Instead, the release comes during the fall batch Jewish holidays. That being said, the September release will leave the film in the minds of the many Oscar voters. The film is based on Lipstadt’s book, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial.

Libel cases in England work rather different than they do here in the United States. Rather than David Irving (Timothy Spall) proving that he was defamed, it was up to Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her legal team to prove the Holocaust occurred and to prove her innocence. If this doesn’t feel reprehensible, I don’t know what does. It feels absurd, really, to place the history of the Holocaust on trial. In Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Lipstadt had declared that Irving was a Holocaust denier. Sadly, these people do exist and Irving sued for libel after the book was published in the United Kingdom in 1996. The trial didn’t start until January 11, 2000 and went on for 32 days. It wasn’t until April that the 333-page judgement was rendered.

Solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) decide to take on Lipstadt’s case, which lasted over a month in court. The high profile international case had an impact on how people would tell the history of the Holocaust. Moreover, Rampton’s chief strategy was that neither Lipstadt nor any of the Holocaust survivors would be called to the stand.

Lipstadt was relentless in her efforts to provide justice and remind everyone what happened in Europe during the 1940s. The scenes filmed at the camps are powerful enough that one should pause whatever they might be doing to give tribute to those who died. Jackson made the wise decision to end the film with a shot of the camp at Auschwitz. That shot alone is a profound moment.

Give credit to producers Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff for being inspired by Lipstadt’s story to get her book and later option the film rights. At a time when prominent voices in the United States and elsewhere, especially the Middle East, are denying the Holocaust, they stuck with their guns and continued to make sure this story gets told on screen after first hearing about it some eight years ago. For screenwriter David Hare, he had to read through the 40 days of court records in order to make sure that the movie would not be accused of any factual distortions.

While viewing this movie during the Ten Days of Repentance in the Jewish calendar, I couldn’t help but think of my aunt, uncle, and cousins who died as a result of the Shoah. (2021 edit: I have since found out that a second great-grandmother on my father’s side died in the Holocaust.)

DIRECTOR: Mick Jackson
CAST: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings

Bleecker Street released Denial in theaters on September 30, 2016.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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