“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “but not to his own facts.”
It was the opinion of English author David Irving that Adolf Hitler hadn’t been all bad. You can still hear that sentiment today. That was his take and, yes, he was entitled to it. But then Irving wrote books stating, as a fact, that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz. And when a professor from Queens called him on it, writing that he was a liar and a bigot, he sued her for libel. The heart of the film focuses on Spall and Wilkinson alone.
Timothy Spall plays the chummy anti-Semite, and Rachel Weisz is Deborah Lipstadt, the native New Yorker who stubbornly took him on. Tom Wilkinson, meanwhile, is her fierce British barrister, his powdered wig and robes hardly hiding his disdain for her attacker.
Great actors like these make theirs the best scenes in the movie. But it would be nice if the playwright David Hare had found a way to bring Lipstadt into things more. We know as little about her at the end of the movie as we do at the beginning. She has a dog. She jogs. She hates anti-Semitism. Still, although she never becomes a full character, the action inside the courtroom is compelling. This is a place where people duel with words.
And the film has some icy moments in the outside world, too, like an early fact-finding trip to Auschwitz. Or ugly, horribly familiar scenes, as we see Irving appearing before cheering crowds, spouting his contempt for women and minorities, and his fond affection for certain fascists.
Of course, at the time Irving insisted he was merely being amusing, his all-in-good-fun comments taken out of context by the humorless, politically correct crowd. It’s an excuse people like him still make. Just as there are people today who will claim that all opinions are equal, that facts are boring, that there is no such thing as objective truth.
Denial has become painfully timely. Denial is about the consequences of words. Denial reminds us of what the verdict should be.