Denial Parent Review
Although centered on a dark moment in history, this courtroom drama doesn’t delve into gruesome details. Instead it offers strong portrayals of standing up for the things one believes in.
Deborah Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), an Associate Professor of Religion at Emory University in Atlanta and a published author, has been giving lectures promoting her book Denying the Holocaust. At one such gathering, a man at the back of the room interrupts her speech demanding she shows proof of the atrocities she claims the Jews endured. Amidst the ensuing uproar, the interloper introduces himself as David Irving (played by Timothy Spall) – an author and historian who is a self-proclaimed expert on World War II in general and Nazi Germany in particular. Besides discrediting her presentation, Irving informs Lipstadt that he is suing her for libel because she explicitly mentions his name as an example of a “denier” in her writings.
At first, Lipstadt doesn’t take his threat very seriously. But as the implications of his legal action become clearer, the Professor realizes she cannot let his accusations go unchallenged. It is not just her judgment of him that is in question. It is also the reality of the holocaust. The situation is even more complicated because Irving has filed his complaint in the United Kingdom, where the law puts the burden of proof on the defendant, not on the plaintiff. That means Lipstadt must produce evidence to show her words about Irving are true, while he has no responsibility to back up his claims against her. And if Lipstadt is going to convince the court that Irving is a denier, the Jewish scholar is going to have to prove that the holocaust did indeed happen.
Based on a true story, this movie follows the famous Irving v. Lipstadt hearing. The script focuses on the preparations made by the British team who represent the American academic. (David Irving chose to be his own legal counsel.) This includes Barrister Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), who researches and develops a strategy for the case, and Solicitor Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) who presents their arguments in court. As part of the investigation, Lipstadt and Rampton visit Auschwitz, to look at the remains of the gas chambers used for killing prisoners (some brief re-enactments show crowds of people being herded into the building and later trying unsuccessfully to escape from the locked room). Recognizing the lasting impact the verdict may have for the Jewish people, Julius comes up with his best plan to protect their dignity and expose Irving’s racial motives. The problem is, his tactics mean Lipstadt will be denied the opportunity to take the stand and speak in her own defense. Following his advice proves to be the greatest trial yet to be faced by the strong-willed, articulately-skilled woman.
Although centered on a dark moment in history, this courtroom drama doesn’t delve into gruesome details. Instead, it presents its point of view with no apology to those who might be tempted to downplay the events that took place in concentration camps or ignore the voices of the survivors. The film does depict the characters smoking sometimes, drinking lots, cursing occasionally and uttering a strong sexual expletive once. Racial slurs are also thrown around and news footage of angry fringe groups (like neo-Nazi skinheads) are seen. Still, the messages presented here offer valuable insight about the courage to speak out, the strength to stay silent, and the wisdom to know which response will best allow justice to be heard. The screenplay is also a reminder that we will learn the most from history by being careful to preserve it – and not let present-day sensibilities (or insensibilities) re-envision the past.Directed by Mick Jackson. Starring Rachel Weisz, Andrew Scott, Timothy Spall. Running time: 110 minutes. Theatrical release October 21, 2016. Updated January 3, 2017
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Denial here.
Denial Parents Guide
Deborah Lipstadt has a policy of not arguing about the reality of the Holocaust with those who doubt it has happened. Why? How might this debate add credibility to the deniers? Do you think any amount of evidence would change a person’s mind if it is already made up with the opposing point of view?
In this movie, both Deborah Lipstadt and David Irving accuse the other of manufacturing lies instead of presenting real history. How does interpretation play into an understanding the past? How can the average person tell the difference between an expert’s opinion and the raw data?
Why does Richard Rampton approach the case by conducting research to find facts? How does Lipstadt’s feelings for her subject give her the passion to fight for it? Can emotion really be separated from the study of history? What things do you believe in strongly enough to stand up and defend?
At first, Deborah Lipstadt is very discouraged by the way British law differs from American law. What things does she have to learn to just accept? How does the dedication of her legal team influence the way she feels about trusting others? What can you learn from her experience? What happens to David Irving who chooses to work alone, both as a historian and as his own legal counsel?
Why won’t Anthony Julius use survivors as witnesses during the trial? Why won’t he let Lipstadt talk? How hard would it be for you to follow his legal advice? Who would you trust to speak in your defense?