3 out of 4 stars
by Bayard Lewis
With recent political upheaval around the world, as consumers of mass media we need to be more vigilant in seeking true, hard facts. A sad and disturbing legacy of Holocaust denial goes back decades, but came to an important crossroads in 1998 when historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is sued by David Irving (Timothy Spall) for libel. Her book “ Denying the Holocaust” asserted that Irving intentionally promoted false facts about the Holocaust to deny its occurrence.
Lipstadt encounters resistance from her own Jewish community members in fighting Irving in court. Their heated discussion around a dinner table is one of the best scenes in the film that takes place outside the courtroom. Deborah also goes with her legal team visit to Auschwitz. The gray weather and cold tones capture a somber, chilling atmosphere and a recognition that the site of one of the worst atrocities in human history remains as historical landmark and shrine for the victims.
Irving attempts to use tiny construction details to put holes in the story of Auschwitz being used a camp for mass extermination. Fortunately, the larger picture has so many irrefutable facts that Irving, rather than the Holocaust, ends up being the ultimate subject on trial.
Free speech and the necessity to fight untruths are resounding themes in the film that are met with resistance so that the audience also feels under pressure, as Lipstadt did in the years leading up to her appearance in a London courtroom to defend her book.
“Denial” takes moment in history that should not be taken lightly when our zeitgeist of misinformation campaigns and denial of scientific evidence to further political agendas infiltrates the common sense of everyday Americans. It’s not as powerful a film as it should be, but hits enough of the right chords to feel that victory over bigotry has been won.