Mick Jackson’s oh so relevant courtroom drama Denial explores the perversion of the free speech and historical debate when discredited faux-historian and Holocaust denier David Irving takes Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt to trial, for merely telling the inconvenient truth.
It speaks volumes for humanity’s goodness that a name like David Irving has no big memory in history. Unlike his beloved mass murdering Führer that he tried to rebrand as a historical hero for his own vitriolic fan-fiction, Irving sees no such undeserved praise from Jackson, screenwriter David Hare and author of “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”, professor Lipstadt herself. These champions of truth recognising that the 1996 case of Irving v. Penguin Books Ltd, in which Irving attempted to sue Lipstadt for libel under the plaintiff-siding UK justice system for analysing his political agendas, was actually the story of one of the first right-wing snowflakes whose ideas couldn’t survive under scrutiny without daddy government coming to his aide.
Supported by beautiful performances from Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt, her lawyers in Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott, along with the devilish Timothy Spall as Irving, Jackson cradles his film on the fine line between the emotionality and framing of truth, taking his aim not on the experience of the victims who desperately want to testify, nor the credentials of Miss Lipstadt to make these claims, but on Irving himself as the clownish deceptor he, under scrutiny, is, and who had the specific malintent to play the falsifying contrarian for daddy Hitler.
While not up to Fincher-level craft in making the minuscule impactful, both in narrative and cinematic style, Jackson’s Denial is more a war of words that plays like a cool stage play that I must say manages to engage. From free speech advocates to those who admire gripping stories where the battle is confined and defined, there’s a weight to Jackson’s film in its commitment to the truth and curiosity in the question: what leads one to denial? When all that comes with it, against all presented evidence for an incredible truth, one tosses away to prove they’re right? This gives Lipstadt an interesting arc in that she herself was opposed to debate with these faux-historians.
There is a saying that “those who walk away from the debate have already lost”, to which oftentimes that saying is true, but Jackson recognises the painful endurance we must have when it comes to reaffirming truth. It’s not enough to simply settle the case when the aggressive side is so obviously wrong. It’s not enough to say you’re right and shut down those who disagree, no matter where you fall on the discourse spectrum. In the culture war and the need for truth, it’s important that even as trying as it might be, the best argument must always and continuously be presented to reign the day. Truth is worth fighting for.
All the dialogue in the courtroom scenes is taken verbatim from the trial records.