Denial retraces the real life court case of David Irving versus Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, in which the British author accused the Holocaust scholar of libelling him in her book Denying the Holocaust. English libel law placing the burden of proof on the defence, we follow Lipstadt and her legal team as they prove that Irving deliberately misinterpreted historical events to adapt them to his ideological and anti-Semitic views. It becomes clear that the trial is not a simple libel case, but a battle to keep the truth intact.
The film is as long and scrupulous as the case. The dialogue is tedious at times and Rachel Weisz‘s over-the-top American accent puts an unfortunate strain on the energy she brings to Lipstadt. But it is an intellectual film rather than a sensational one, not designed to be loved but to make a point. And in a time where ‘alternative facts’ have become acceptable, it is a very important film.
There is something truly powerful in watching the protagonist remain mute during the main passages of the movie, as she is forbidden to speak by her lawyers who take charge of her defence. Lipstadt explains to her head barrister (the compelling Tom Wilkinson) the difficulty of enduring Irving’s attacks in silence at her own trial, to which he responds: “The trouble is, what feels best isn’t necessarily what works best. I mean by all means, stand up look the devil in the eye, tell him what you feel, why not, it’s very satisfying. See what happens. But you risk losing. Not just for yourself but for all the others. (…) Or stay seated, button your lip, win.”
This reflects the core message of the film: even if we are offended, hurt and frustrated, the only effective way to discredit bigots is through patience and logic.
The film’s emphasis on Lipstadt’s refusal to argue with Holocaust deniers, as well as her claim at the end of the film that “not all opinions are equal” is a crucial reminder that however important free speech is, prejudiced views should always be contested and the spreading of lies and hatred is unacceptable.