לעולם לא אשכח ( NEVER FORGET)

Some are saying this film is a David vs. Goliath story. But in this century of women, let me suggest instead the great story of the biblical Judith in her beheading of Holofemes. You can Google that.

At any rate, here is Director Mick Jackson, Emmy award winner (“Temple Grandin”), and British play and screen writer David Hare (“Damage,” “The Reader”) this week, who take us into the British legal system where, if for example Donald Trump were suing the London Observer for libel, the accused, in this case the Observer, would be assumed guilty of libel until it proved its innocence. Canada, I’m told, uses the same rules. I think I got that right.

Such was the true case of Deborah Lipstadt, an American historian, who teaches Jewish history at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and who is best known for her writings on the Holocaust.

The story of “Denial,” written by Hare, is taken from Lipstadt’s book, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.” We visit her 2000 London court room battle with the British anti-semite, historian and Nazi sympathizer David Irving (Timothy Spall).

At the start of the film, Irving, who had for some time tried to get Lipstadt to debate him publicly, causes a furor by interrupting one of her lectures. Irving holds up a thousand dollars in cash, and offers it to anyone who can prove without a doubt that the Holocaust actually happened. Lipstadt refuses, “I won’t debate facts.”

Irving’s “facts” denied, not only the extermination of 6 million Jews, but that the gas ovens ever existed.

Then Irving, insisting that her book had damaged his reputation and cost him dearly, sued Lipstadt for libel.

The case was taken up in London and forced Lipstadt to go to England, lawyer up and begin a two-year trial.

Lipstadt and her publisher could have settled out of court, but this would have been unthinkable for Lipstadt, a tough Jewish girl from the Bronx. She took the bait, and the trial began.

From the start, Lipstadt’s hands were tied, and Donald Trump, for example, would have cried “rigged.”

Lipstadt’s lawyers denied her permission to put Holocaust survivors in the witness box, where Irving could cross examine the very aged Jews whose memories could be used against them, and Lipstadt herself, shockingly, was kept from testifying, essentially gagging her as well. Such was the game plan of her British lawyers, especially at the insistence of the top gun, a famed Scottish barrister, Richard Rampton, played skillfully and brilliantly low key by the formidable and always welcome Tom Wilkinson.

It will take sometime for you in the audience, as it did for me, to get my head around this judicial trick. But in a short, powerful scene over tea, Wilkinson brings her and us, around.

The story is part of history now, and the conclusion well-known. Never-the-less, the film and its array of splendid British actors and the three top players, Wilkinson, Weisz and Spall, hold us in suspense.

Timothy Spall, one of Britain’s most gifted classical and modern actors (“Mr. Turner,” and “Wormtail” in two Harry Potter films) gives us a stunning, snarky, evil and oily pro-fascist that will chill your blood.

The entire legal team of actors are properly starchy, focused and qualified, but it is Wilkinson who, as always, brings the denier to his knees without once raising his voice, a last minute maneuver that is cheer-worthy.

And then there is the incomparable Rachel Weisz, with new ruffled red hair and set jaw, etching the Jewish defender of the hallowed dead with all the power of that girl from the Bronx, Deborah Lipstadt.

“Denial” features the powdered wigs, British wit and dispassionate dryness you might expect of a British court room piece. But when the team, accompanied by a survivor and gatekeeper, takes us on a midwinter’s tour of what remains of Auschwitz, all dryness vanishes, and the smell of ancient blood drawn with malice flows into our laps.

If you really needed to be reminded not to forget, here is a film to see.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.