Film Spotlight: Denial


Guest Review: DENIAL (2016) by Cinemusefilms 

The nature of truth and the power to manipulate it have long been contentious themes in history and cinema. The outstanding film Denial (2016) resonates loudly in today’s post-truth world where power is often used to create alternate realities. It is a film that portrays denialism as a dangerous and perverse form of moral corruption, something that may be contained but can never be eliminated.

The story is based on the celebrated 1996 legal case fought between eminent academic Deborah Lipstadt, an American professor of Holocaust Studies, and David Irving, a historian of Nazi Germany. A book published by Lipstadt (Rachael Weisz) accuses Irving (Timothy Spall) of being a Holocaust denier and falsifier of history, and Irving sues for defamation. In the British justice system, the burden of proof is on the accused so Lipstadt must prove that the Holocaust did happen to establish that Irving is a liar. She engages a top legal team led by senior barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) who insists that neither Lipstadt or Holocaust survivors should present testimony against Irving because of his history of promoting himself by humiliating victims. Lipstadt and her lawyers visit Auschwitz to gather evidence of the existence of gas chambers but the bulk of the story is played out on the legal battlefield at court.

Modern audiences are desensitised to the atrocities of war. It is glorified in movies and video games and feeds the entertainment and amusement industry. Today’s filmmakers struggle to find ways of remembering the Holocaust without alienating viewers. The extraordinary Son of Saul (2016) takes audiences right into the flames, whereas Denial (2016) explores the moral issues in a courtroom. In reality, this was a high-stakes legal battle that could have potentially delegitimised the entire history of the Holocaust. It is an outstanding achievement that this film can capture the tension and the burden of moral responsibility carried by the Lipstadt legal team.

The casting and characterisation in this film are brilliant. Rachael Weisz’s American brashness presents a stark cultural contrast with the conservative traditions of British justice. She convincingly portrays a principled academic and scholar of truth, showing restrained emotion beneath her loathing for Irving’s anti-Semitism. Tom Wilkinson gives a masterful portrait of wisdom and conviction, while Timothy Spall plays Irving with subdued Satanic malice. The other support cast makes up a strong ensemble. The narrative unfolds at a sweeping pace and the script is both intelligent and instructive in the legal nuance of courtroom manoeuvers. The footage of Auschwitz is emotionally harrowing and the film treats its subject matter with utmost reverence.

If you want light entertainment, do not see this film. It is for audiences prepared to confront the dark side of humanity as well as those interested in the intricacies and triumphs of the British legal system. But more than that, it’s an essay on the nature of truth in history and it exposes the moral abhorrence of those who manipulate facts to suit their prejudices It is also a warning that manipulators of truth will always be among us. 4/5

Director: Mick Jackson

Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall

Thanks, RICHARD, for contributing to my blog today! 

25 thoughts on “Film Spotlight: Denial

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  1. I remember the Irving case playing out over here, and what a horrible man he was during (and before and since) that trial. Let’s not forget that he is still around, and still peddling his lies.
    I have eagerly anticipated this film, not just for keeping the issue in the limelight, but also for the wonderful cast,
    as I have never seen Spall or Wilkinson give a bad performance in anything.
    Best wishes, Pete.


    1. Hi Pete, thank you for your comments. I agree that I have never been disappointed with any of the cast, even in mediocre films, they make the picture better. I haven’t seen this yet, but I’m renting it soon.


    2. While we might believe that the trial was a foregone conclusion, the film shows that the outcome could not be presumed. Many in the Jewish community urged that Lipstadt settle out of court to avoid the risk of the case failing and to avoid the trauma of Holocaust victims giving evidence. One of the key moments in the trial that caused a tension spike was when the presiding judge raised the question that if Irving genuinely believed what he preached (that the Holocaust was fake), was he a falsifier of history or simply misguided. The film shows that truth in history is hotly contested ground. Thanks for commenting beetleypete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Did you??? Fantastic! So glad you gave those two a look. Obviously I loved The Innocents. I have a review for “Ove” ready to post. Big fan of that one too.


          1. That’s a really good question. It is an interesting category this year. “Ove” has been considered the “surprise nomination” which makes me thing it probably won’t win. I love Farhadi (one of my favorite modern filmmakers). I haven’t see “The Salesman” but I’m so anxious to. “Land of Mine” also looks fantastic. “Toni Erdmann” is getting a ton of critical buzz so it has a good shot. But to be honest I have no idea. It will be fun to see.


  2. It really is shocking to meet people like this. And they always seem to be on a crusade to influence others. It’s not really hard to see how they could be able to do so as that whole event in History is so incredibly horrific. It’s something I surely don’t think anybody ought to forget – much less deny.
    Between Mummies, Rachael does some meaningful work. I have to figure that this will not be a film that most people would go out to see though.
    Yes we are “desensitized” to War. Only experiencing the real thing changes that.


    1. Rachel is a fine actress; I love everything she does. I haven’t had the opportunity to see it yet, but I teach Holocaust Class and suspect it will be in the syllabus next year. I’ll be watching it a lot.


  3. Fascinating for the way it approaches how a legal argument must be made, forensic evidence and the differences between UK and US law: “guilty until proven innocent.” The courtroom drama is a bit dry and unemotional but definitely some interesting stuff here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A very interesting read. So this is based on a true incident? I wasn’t aware of this. How can anyone deny the Holocaust!! Even in the 90’s. It’s absurd, such people actually existed/exist.
    I’d love to watch this movie, and Son of Saul (2015).
    I have wanted to see Son of Saul, ever since it won the Grand Prix, at the Cannes Film Festival, in May 2015!!


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