What ‘Denial’ teaches us about the past, the present – and the future

Denial

With all of the razzamatazz surrounding the likes of ‘La La Land’ and ‘Jackie’ in the run-up to the Oscars (both of which were completely over-rated, in my humble opinion), it’s easy to overlook the fact that some highly thought-provoking and moving films, made on far smaller budgets than either of the above, have been released over the past few months. That’s not to say, of course, that there’s anything wrong with a slice of good old-fashioned entertainment – there’s nothing better than being transported out of your own reality into another world for a couple of hours. I just didn’t particularly like the world of ‘La La Land’ (but happily accept that I am in a minority).

Yet one of the most wonderful things about cinema is its power to educate and enlighten – which, done in the right way, can also be entertaining. This is where ‘Denial’ (which, infuriatingly, did not receive one single Oscar nomination) is so successful, providing an utterly compelling account/depiction of true life events which held me gripped throughout the film’s duration despite already being familiar with their outcome.

If you aren’t familiar with the background to ‘Denial’, here it is in a nutshell. In 1996, British historian David Irving made the decision to sue Deborah Lipstadt, an American professor of Holocaust studies, for libel after she described him as a Holocaust denier in one of her books. As in the U.K. the burden of proof in a libel case lies with the accused, Lipstadt and her legal team needed to prove that Irving had lied about the Holocaust. It is the events leading up to, and during, the libel trial upon which the film focuses.

This is a real ensemble piece. All of the performances are well thought-out; even though the audience’s sympathies lie, it goes without saying, with Deborah, Rachel Weisz portrays her warts and all: at times she come across as difficult, argumentative and demanding. Likewise, Timothy Spall does a good job of fleshing out David Irving’s character. It would have been very easy to portray him as a bigoted monster, but thanks to Spall’s efforts we do at least see Irving as a human being, repellent though he and his beliefs are.
Calmly and comprehensively, the film brings home the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, without being heavy-handed. The scene where Deborah and her lawyers visit a snow-covered Auschwitz is particularly effective – their silence, as they walk around its perimeter, says more than words could ever do.

Even though we know in advance what the outcome of the trial was, thanks to excellent writing and compelling performances the tension is sustained throughout. There may be some big names in the cast (Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson and Harriet Walter among them), but this is a resolutely unstarry film and all the better for it.

I know it’s not showing at that many cinemas, but please do go to see ‘Denial’ if you get chance. At its core is one of the darkest periods in history, during which over 6 million people were murdered. We must never forget them; nor can we let David Irving and his ilk prevail.

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