“Alternative facts” put to the test

This is my review of Denial [DVD].

Since it is widely known that historian David Irving lost his libel suit against the Jewish American academic Deborah Lipstadt who had branded him a “Holocaust denier” in her book published by Penguin, I was at first reluctant to watch a film on a harrowing theme about which I considered myself already reasonably well informed.

In fact, I gained quite a few fresh insights from what proved to be a well-acted fact-based drama with a powerful script by David Hare, which manages to both moving and peppered with wry humour.

A feisty and outspoken woman, Deborah is perplexed to discover that, under English law, the burden of proof rests on the defendant, so her lawyers must satisfy the judge that Irving lied in his work, deliberately distorting evidence to show Hitler in an unduly favourable light and to present false evidence to “prove” the Holocaust had never occurred. Deborah’s outrage boils over when it becomes clear that, not only is she to be prevented from taking the stand, but the concentration camp survivors desperate to honour the memory of the dead by giving evidence will also be excluded. The lawyers know that a dispassionate approach, using painstaking historial research to find the flaws in Irvine’s work, will prove more effective than emotional scenes which Irvine, who is representing himself, will twist into theatre to play to the gallery.

The screenplay avoids the pitfalls of getting bogged down in a morass of detail, with a focus in the trial scenes focus on a few striking pieces of evidence to give a flavour of the complex proceedings.

I realised for the first time that the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz is hard to prove, since the Germans bulldozed them causing barrister Richard Rampton to exclaim in despair over the lack of impartial, systematic forensic analysis of the site over the half century following the Holocaust. So, for instance, mavericks have been able to concoct false analysis of the levels of Zyklon B in the brickwork.

There is a double denial in the title: not merely Irving’s deceit, but the fact that, to gain justice, holocaust victims must remain silent while the legal team ferrets out the points which will discredit Irving.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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