Another day another film. Denial this time. A BOTS (Based on true story) of the libel trial between Holocaust denier David Irving, a British ‘historian’ and Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt an American academic who called him out.
It’s a court room drama, a tried and tested formula where the outcome is well known so it’s the characters’ journeys that are the thing that holds the story together. That is a challenge for any movie, especially one where a number of the main players still live, and more so when there is precious little action beyond some harmless scuffling outside the Royal Courts of Justice and a visit to Auschwitz.
I was a lawyer (holds his hand up, admitting a grievous sin) so some of the action between client and lawyer retains a certain compelling interest. Even so, it isn’t a lawyer’s film and I would recommend this to anyone who likes a movie that makes you think. The best movies stay with me – not as in the blood splatte ones that give me nightmares or the egregiously bad ones that make me question my sanity in going in the first place – but which have some theme, or conceit even, that rumbles around inside my head, asking questions, probing at my certainties with an unsettling stiletto.
The thing that sorts this out from what might be just another movie about a legal battle is it’s current resonance. We are told we live in a post truth era where the main news bodies can’t be trusted and social media and the made up news factories are where news is being distributed and consumed today. The POTUS tweets himself horse, even calling out the media for failing to report terrorist atrocities across Europe because it fails to meet their agenda of demonising (his words) his travel ban policy. So much for a free press.
There is a compelling piece of cinematography. Towards the end (spoiler – ish so skip to the next paragraph) where the judge queries whether someone can be held to have distorted the truth if they hold a view, which they believe honestly, even if it is wrong. It encapsulates one of the criticisms of those attacking Irving: that the legal action in effect justifies a curtailment of the freedom of speech, the right to hold and voice opinions that are unwelcome and many find intolerable and, indeed, may be factually wrong.
The acting is good, Timothy Spall would have to work very hard not to be and Rachel Weisz perfectly fits the role of the confident American academic unwillingly but eventually gratefully brought to heel by expert lawyers. The most interesting part is that of lead solicitor Anthony Julius, famous for acting for Princess Diana in her divorce. He comes across as dry, hard bitten, lacking sympathy with any views not his own but brilliant, clever and tactically astute. How we root for him at the end is perhaps the cleverest piece of directing.
You might argue that this is more the subject of a documentary, maybe but it wouldn’t have such a wide audience and it is a message that needs to be heard, sometimes fiction does that better.
Go see it. I forgot my ice cream and, you know what? I didn’t miss it.