By BILL ZUK "Denial", from Bleeeker Street, is a 2016 courtroom drama based on the true story of historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), and her fight for the truth in the British High Court.
She was pitted in a moral and legal battle with David Irving (Timothy Spall), once a respected researcher who had become a foremost Holocaust denier.
Directed by Emmy winner Mick Jackson, and adapted from Lipstadt’s book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, by BAFTA and Berlin Golden Bear–winning screenwriter David Hare, the British/American co-production from Krasnoff/Foster Entertainment, Shoebox Films, Participant Media and BBC Films, is an absorbing account of history on trial.
Following on last year’s "Woman in Gold", another British-American film directed by Simon Curtis and written by Alexi Kaye Campbell, "Denial" had several parallels. "Woman in Gold" starred Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Brühl in another real-life courtroom drama based on righting a wrong from the Second World War. Denial confronts the most baseless of all wartime controversies, denying the Holocaust ever existed.
David Irving was a central and pivotal figure in 20th Century military research for decades after the release of his acclaimed first book, The Destruction of Dresden (1963) based on exhaustive research, and his facility with the German language after working in Germany. What followed were a number of other books based on Germany in the Second World War, focusing steadily on Nazi leadership, including a two-part biography of Adolf Hitler.
Although well regarded as a researcher, troubling issues began to emerge about Irving’s proclivity to use questionable data. When The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17 (1967) resulted in a libel case, he was forced to withdraw the book and pay damages. Although not found in his earlier works, the whiff of revisionism began to coalesce into a belief that the Holocaust was a fraud perpetuated by Jews.
Irving gradually emerged throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as the leading voice for Neo-Nazi and Holocaust deniers such as Ernst Zündel and that is how Denial introduces the audience to Irving in a telecast of a meeting held in Calgary in 1994. Lipstadt dismissively ignores the broadcast but as a well-known American historian, she had already consigned Irving to the “dustpail” of history as a charletan and anti-semite.
Originally Hillary Swank was cast in the role of Deborah Lipstadt, but dropped out in pre-production only to be replaced by Rachel Weisz whose background as a Jewish Brit who now makes her home in Manhattan, brought an earnestness to the role. The ensemble cast also included Tom Wilkenson as her chief council Richard Rampton and Andrew Scott as celebrity barrister Anthony Julius.
Filming took place in London, Kraków, Poland, and in a haunting sequence, at Auschwitz where Lipstadt and her legal team attempted to reconstruct the evidence needed to prove it was an extermination camp. Irving and other deniers challenged every contention that the Holocaust took place, using Auschwitz as an example that no primary evidence existed of gas chambers, regardless of the thousands of shoes, suitcases and personal items that are on display in the museum now found there.
By the late 1990s, Irving found that his virulent rhetoric on lecture circuits had begun to impact his prospects as an author. When his last book, Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich was turned down by his publisher, and on its release in self-publishing, was savaged by critics, he turned on Lipstadt, his nemesis. Suing her and her British publisher, Penquin for libel, created a legal conundrum. In British jurisprudence, the onus is on the defendant to prove the case.
Lipstadt turned to a formidable team of lawyers while Irving, fluent in the legal constructs of the British High Court, represented himself. Denial faithfully reproduces the case of Irving v Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, using the actual testimony of the trial as it slowly unraveled the duplicity of a Holocaust denier. The film becomes a slow procession of legal points and strategy that is less than the harrowing moral tale it could have been.
In the real trial, neither Lipstadt nor any survivors gave testimony as her legal team had created a stratagem that used Irving’s own words against him, even subpoenaing his massive million page, 20-year diary. Choosing a trial by judge led to the landmark verdict by Sir Charles Gray (Alex Jennings) that Irving was a Holocaust denier, falsifier, and bigot with damages charged.
What "Denial" does not elaborate was that David Irving was forced into bankruptcy, and eventually lost his affluent lifestyle of palatial mansion and Rolls-Royce automobiles.
Bill Zuk, author, filmmaker, historian, photographer and artist, is the author of 10 children’s and adult books, including True-life Adventures of Canada’s Bush Pilots, 2009; Janusz Zurakowski: A Legend in the Skies, 2007 (Canadian edition, 2004; Polish Edition, 2010); The Avro Arrow Story, 2006; and Avrocar: Canada’s Flying Saucer, 2001. Bill has also written extensively for aviation magazines worldwide, and served as editor of the trade journal Manitoba Aviation (formerly Western Canada Aviation & Aerospace), published bi-annually.
As a documentary screenwriter, director and consultant, Bill has worked on 18 films to date, including As Close as Brothers, 2011, Bearing his Soul: Gerry ‘The Big Bear’ Barrett, CTV, 2003; Zero Over the Prairies, CTV/PBS, 2003; and Avrocar: Flying Saucer Secrets of the Past, Discovery Canada, 2002, based on his first book. The flying saucer he built for the Discovery Canada television documentary now resides at the Western Canada Aviation Museum, where visitors are still dumbfounded that Canada was in the business of building flying saucers. His latest film project involves finding an airport underneath Churchill High School that has become Winnipeg's Lost Airport (2016). For the last five years, Bill has been the curator of an ongoing annual film festival, Films Take Flight at the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.