First Hit: A strong and heart felt story about a truth.
Has anyone ever denied something you and everyone else you know to be true? For me it is deflating and hurtful to have the truth be ignored by ignorance or ego driven insensitivity. I can only imagine what it might have felt like when Deborah Lipstadt (the real person), a noted historian and writer, was challenged by a denier that the Holocaust had actually happened. Being Jewish historian, she wrote a book called “Denying the Holocaust” in which she indicate that Irving was a liar by denying the holocaust had happened.
This film attempts to share this powerful story when Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) was confronted by David Irving (Timothy Spall), a holocaust denier, while she was teaching a class. Irving said that he'd give anyone $1,000 if they could prove that holocaust had taken place. She was so incensed that she called him a liar in public along with a few other assorted things which gave Irving the forum he needed to have Lipstadt sued for libel thereby having his cause heard. By having his cause heard, he would become more famous, validated, and rich. The forum he chose was the English court system. In this system, the defendant (Lipstadt) had to prove that Irving was a liar, which is different than the US court system where the prosecutor has to prove they were libeled. Living in the US Lipstadt didn’t know this and took the case straight on.
Her English Barrister (the person doing the lead research) was Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott) and her Advocate (the person arguing the case) was Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson). Together they spent years and millions of pounds detailing out a case, in front of a judge, to hopefully show that Irving was lying.
The arguments on both sides were interesting. One of Irving’s beliefs that stood out reminded me of the OJ Simpson trial. In the Simpson trial Johnnie Cochran came up with a catch phrase that swayed the trial, “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. In this film, Irving and the press came up with, “No holes, no holocaust”. What it referenced was the issue that no one had been able to show that were holes in the ceilings of the gas chambers where the poisonous gas materials were dropped into the chambers. If there were no evidence of holes in the ceilings, then how could have gas pellets been dropped into the chamber?
On the other side arguments brought forth by Rampton were aimed at having Irving box himself into a corner showing that he knowingly lied about his research. By doing this, he would be admitting that he was a liar on his own accord which would then support Lipstadt’s original statement, that he was a liar. This was a difficult challenge and Rampton, who threw himself fully into the task. But one thing he insisted on was to ensure that the arguments were not emotional. Therefore, he insisted that neither Lipstadt nor any survivors take the stand to make an emotional case. He wanted the case decided on logic and true information so that this issue wouldn't ever again be questioned.
With this set-up , the film deftly brings this story to light. The English Court system, the pain of the holocaust, and a way to commit to the truth without the display of emotions.
Weiss was very good as Lipstadt. Her drive and dignity of the character were well delivered. Wilkinson was wonderful as the Advocate. His humanness and logical drive were strongly present through the entire process. Spall was amazing in this unlikeable role. The ability to take on a role like this despite your beliefs is challenging and he did it extremely well. Scott was good as the Barrister who wanted to right the wrong. David Hare created a wonderful and intense screenplay. The dialogue exchanges between Lipstadt and Rampton were wonderfully written. Mick Jackson did a wonderful job of directing this courtroom thriller. Some of the scenes at Auschwitz were amazingly and deftly shot.
Overall: This was a strong film about a deeply emotional piece of history.