Tuesday, October 18
Directed by Mick Jackson
1 hour 50 minutes
From Bleeker Street Media
The tag line says most everything... the whole world knows the holocaust happened. Now she needs to prove it. Based on Deborah Lipstadt's book of her true-life account, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, the story concerns the historian's battle in English courts where she and her legal team fight libel charges brought by David Irving, a mouthy denier. The twist for the American Lipstadt is that in England the burden of proof is on the accused instead of the way it goes in American courts where one is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
I vaguely remember the actual case although I have longed been perplexed over history deniers. In this case, however, Irving sued Lipstadt for libel because she called him a denier. Irving didn't see himself as a denier but rather as an absolute authority on Hitler and his facts simply didn't match those of Lipstadt's or the world's. Irving felt the historical truth was little more than a Jewish conspiracy to cast themselves in a favorable light leading to advantageous social positioning.
The outrageousness of it all via seeing previews of the film umpteen times put the film on my must-see list despite my feeling of drowning from stories of the holocaust. I thought this would be a different sort of holocaust story and on that score I was correct. What I did not see coming was a rather lackluster approach to the material. Nearly two hours is too long to lay out a story so lacking in dramatic impact. There were at least two times that I thought ok, here we go, we're gonna knock this one out of the ballpark. And then nothing. It's hard not to feel some missed opportunities. I generally love courtroom dramas because of the wallop they pack but these scenes, for the most part, were rather tepid.
A great deal is made of the fact that not only is Lipstadt not allowed to testify but neither are some holocaust survivors. It would seem the latter would put to rest the denials but they are not permitted to tell their stories because they will be torn to shreds. What?!?! They never got to testify in the film because they didn't have the opportunity in real life but one is left feeling pretty baffled. It would have provided a lift to the film which never comes and I left thinking it would have better suited to a TV movie.
Weisz delivered her usual capable performance but as written, the role didn't offer her much of a chance to chew on meaty dialogue and it should have. I did enjoy watching her legal team come together... each person having a stake, a job, a purpose apart from the others. Wilkinson has some good lines and delivers what dramatic impact there is. Scott and Lowden were given some impactful things to say and valuable screen time and Pistorius (who played Weisz's daughter in the recently-reviewed The Light Between Oceans) was effective. Of course the flashiest performance went to Spall as the bright but devious Irving. One feels willing to stand in the line to get a sock at him.
Irving's most egregious behavior was his anti-semitism and the crowd I saw the film with did some cheering in scenes where he was brought down. As someone alluded to in the film, the racism and the serial lying warranted the man being shunned if not punished. Seems like a good template for these days.
Something about girl singers