to New York State’s wise libel tourism laws, reviewers of this film can refer
to “historian” David Irving as a holocaust denier secure in the knowledge New
York courts will not honor any foreign libel judgments against them deemed inconsistent
with our own First Amendment rights. One would think the ugly spectacle of
Irving suing American historian Deborah Lipstadt, forcing her to prove the
Holocaust happened would have created a groundswell for libel law reform, but
alas, it did not. The high stakes court case gets the big screen treatment in
Mick Jackson’s Denial (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
was once a semi-credible historian, who garnered some favorable blurbs before
crossing over to the dark side. By the time Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust was published, he
was a fringe figure, but he still had a knack for garnering media attention. In
a potentially devastating act of libel tourism, Irving sued Lipstadt’s British
publisher, Penguin UK, in British courts.
an American court, Irving would have to prove Lipstadt’s words were both
defamatory and the product of demonstrable malice, but in Britain Lipstadt
would have to prove they were justifiable. As a result, Penguin’s legal team,
notably including barrister Richard Rampton QC and solicitor Anthony Julius
(in/famous for representing Princess Diana), had the responsibility of proving
the Holocaust really happened and Irving knowingly and deliberately twisted the
historical evidence to the contrary.
of the David-and-Goliath symbolism, Irving opted to represent himself in court.
Again, due to the perversities of the British system, this also gave him some
advantages over as Lipstadt as one of the opposing counsel. Still, the old “fool
for a client” adage hasn’t remained in this long circulation for no reason.
Denial is at its best
when it really digs into the blow-by-blow details of the trial. Rather
logically, all of the litigious Irving’s dialogue in these scenes is adapted
verbatim from the transcript. Watching the crafty Rampton lure the
over-confident Irving into various logical-historical traps is gripping stuff. Unfortunately,
Lipstadt’s overwrought outrage almost becomes insufferable. She is an
accomplished academic, but Rachel Weiss plays her like a shticky Queens caricature
incapable of controlling her emotions or her mouth.
Weiss shuts up, Tom Wilkinson carries the day, portraying Rampton with all his
customary panache and gravitas—and then some. He exudes the intelligence and
charisma of a barrister you would want to be represented by. Similarly, as the Holocaust denier, Timothy
Spall is aptly wily and sinister, in a tweedy British sort of way.
Frustratingly, the terrific Irish character actor Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty in
the Cumberbatch Sherlock) does not
have much to do as Julius except trying to rein in Lipstadt.
When it is smart, Denial is an intense and insightful film. When it is emotional, it
gets a bit dumb, which goes to show the principles for success are not that
much different on film than they are in the courtroom. Fortunately, old pros
like Wilkinson and Spall keep things crackling. Recommended overall, Denial opens this Friday (9/30) at the
Angelika Film Center downtown and the AMC Lincoln Square uptown.
Labels: Andrew Scott, Libel law, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson