Daniel Patrick Moynihan is attributed with the quote, "You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts”. Never before has this quote been so true as in Denial, a powerful courtroom drama recounting the trial based on the acclaimed book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial written by Dr. Deborah Lipstadt.
Written by David Hare (The Reader) and directed by Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard, Temple Grandin), the film vigorously conveys the tense story of Lipstadt’s legal battle with British historian David Irving, of whom she was accused of libel. Like the Titanic, we know the outcome, but that doesn’t preclude us from sitting on the edge of our seat.
Denial producers Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff first became aware of Lipstadt’s work when their children were applying to college. According to the press notes, Krasnoff was researching Emory University in Atlanta, where Dr. Lipstadt is professor of modern Jewish history and studies. After learning about her and a grant she received from the university, he was inspired to read her book, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial (previously published as History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier), a first-hand account of the trial. “In addition to being an important topic, it was wonderful storytelling….…it would make a great movie,” said Krasnoff.
But accuracy was of the utmost importance. After all, truth was the concept that was on trial and the producers were apprehensive. They did not want to distort the proceedings in any way for the sake of storytelling. In the end, there was no need to worry; all of the dialogue from the courtroom scenes was taken verbatim from the official record.
One of the more interesting facts surrounding the film, is the disparity between the rules of the British and American legal systems. In Britain, the claimant need only show defamation in a case of libel whereas the burden of proof rests with the defendant (Lipstadt and Penguin Books). As part of her teams legal strategy, both Lipstadt and Holocaust survivors were “denied” the opportunity to take the stand. The film’s title thus becomes a double-edged sword.
In 1993, while I was chairing the JCC’s annual Bookfair, we brought Dr. Lipstadt to Dallas when her book, Denying the Holocaust – The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory was first published. When I broached the subject of debating Holocaust deniers, she answered brusquely, “I don’t debate people who say 1 + 1 = 3”. She’s asked the same question in the film (and I am sure countless other times as well) and her answer is a bit more colorful.
Academy Award®-winning actress Rachel Weisz deftly captures Lipstadt’s passion and perseverance, but misses a bit on her accent. Andrew Scott as solicitor Anthony Julius and Tom Wilkinson as barrister Richard Rampton do an outstanding job representing their client in a stoic and oh-so British fashion. Timothy Spall, one of Britain’s best-loved and most talented character actors, as David Irving brings a new meaning to the word pathetic.
Kudos to Participant Media, who purchased the film in 2008. Denial perfectly conveys their mission: to create entertainment that inspires and compels social change.
Reprinted with the permission of the TJP