Based on the acclaimed book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, the film Denial recounts writer and educator Deborah E. Lipstadt’s libel trial against historian David Irving, who sued Lipstadt after she declared him a Holocaust denier in one of her books.
Based on actual court transcripts, the film deals with the nature of reality at a time when technology and social media make it possible for people to create their own version of reality. Film critic and arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express, Dave Luhrssen notes its strong screenwriting makes Denial accessible, and even enjoyable to a broad audience.
"I think a film of this kind needs to be based on demonstrable fact as much as possible. It would be very ironic if the screenwriter of Denial would falsify, in any significant way, what happened when the whole point of the court case had to do with the deliberate falsification of history," he says.
Actress Rachel Weisz plays Deborah Lipstadt; Tom Wilkinson portrays her legal counsel, Richard Rampton; and Timothy Spall delivers an sincere and unsettling performance of Holocaust denier David Irving.
"This story puts some different kinds of human faces on the aftermath of the Holocaust," says Luhrssen. "The fact that there are people who continue deny facts that appear to be so oblivious and demonstrable is alarming, and the movie did a good job of personalizing it."
Luhrssen notes that this film, although classified as a courtroom drama, goes far beyond the restraints of the genre to effectively take viewers through the inner workings of an English trail. With cases of libel in the English legal system, the burden of proof is on the defendant, therefore making Lipstadt and her legal team prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.
"You have to never lose sight of the truth of the matter, and that is really the whole point of Denial," he says. "We are living in a time, more and more so than in the past many would say, where people are constructing their own version of reality to the detriment of reality."
Films about the Holocaust typically include first-hand perspectives of the people who lived through the ordeal, such as Son of Saul or Schindler's List. However, Denial does not fit into the typical mold of World War II era storytelling. Instead, it makes viewers reflect on not only the historic events and the actions of people world wide, but how we recall, portray, and defend them.
"Interest in the Holocaust, even if you are not part of any group that was similarly victimized...by forms mass persecution, even if you feel completely removed from this - this movie has a very important point to make about our role as citizens in a democracy. That we need to spend a little bit of time thinking through the information and opinions that we receive," says Luhrssen.