Imagine a lie so egregious, you could be jailed for spreading the deception. As many as 14 European nations have deemed Holocaust denial illegal; and, in the past decade, Austria, France, Germany and Hungary have sent at least 13 men and women to prison for insisting millions of prisoners were not murdered as part of Nazi Germany's "Final Solution."
In the United States and United Kingdom, however, laws against Holocaust denial have been continually quashed, with many arguing free speech protections shelter such claims. Some even argue prosecuting Holocaust deniers elevates them to martyrdom.
Denial, a new film from director Mick Jackson (Temple Grandin, The Bodyguard, L.A. Story), is based on a series of legal battles over Holocaust denial, which pitted denier David Irving against Penguin Books in a London courtroom. Irving sued Penguin and American scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel after the publication of her 1993 landmark best seller, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, in which she detailed anti-Zionist conspiracies. The Times of London would eventually declare, "history had its day in court and scored a crushing victory," but only after Lipstadt discovered the burden of proof was on her: She had to prove the Holocaust happened.
What makes Denial even more powerful is that Lipstadt's legal team informed her neither she nor any Holocaust survivors would be called to the stand,"To win this case, which is about Holocaust denial, Deborah Lipstadt will have to deny herself the glory of standing up in court and speaking to this monster," said Jackson at the Toronto International Film Festival 2016 world premiere of Denial. "That act of self-denial is her only hope of beating Irving's charges."
The movie opens with a fantastically real-life moment in which Irving (Timothy Spall) interrupts a lecture by Lipstadt (Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz) and waves $1,000 in cash above his head, shouting, "I'll give it to anyone who can prove Hitler ordered the killing of the Jews."
Denial is far from being the portrait of an anti-Semite, though—it never even tries to deconstruct the psychology of Irving, a man who dressed like an English gentleman, lived in the exclusive West London neighborhood of Mayfair and was dubbed "a first-rate historian" by Sir John Keegan, famed British military historian and knighted officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Lipstadt, meanwhile, was by her account, a "fish out of water" in the British legal system. "I had to learn to trust my lawyers, keep quiet and have faith in the process," she told Boise Weekly at the premiere. "My solicitor, Anthony Julius, offered to take my case pro bono. He was already famous for representing Princess Diana in her divorce case against the House of Windsor. But now, he talks about my case as one of his most important."
Julius is expertly played in the film by Andrew Scott, an actor well known to British and American audiences alike for his role as villain James Moriarty in BBC's Sherlock. Also in the cast is Oscar-nominee Tom Wilkinson, who portrays barrister Richard Rampton, a member of Lipstadt's legal team. Early in the film, Lipstadt learns about Britain's two-tiered legal system, which divides the defense team's process between barristers and solicitors: solicitors, such as Julius, formulate strategy, negotiate and craft legal documents, while barristers, such as Rampton, argue in court.
"This trial has importance over and above and beyond itself," said Lipstadt. "In an age of relativism, kids grow up thinking 'It must be true, I saw it on the internet.' But not everything can be true. There are not two sides to every issue. Historians can debate how the Holocaust took place; but the fact is, the Holocaust happened."
History has already shown us Lipstadt was victorious in her now-legendary court battle. How she got there is the foundation of a superb film. Denial should not be missed... or forgotten.