“Free speech” has been a hot topic in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has emboldened elements of the far right to be open with their hatred. Just this weekend in Portland, Oregon, a rally for “free speech” happened that was attended by the right wing, ranging from standard conservatives to white supremacists. There were calls for it to be cancelled from the left, and I tend to agree with what Noam Chomsky said on the matter of free speech: “If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise.”
Denial is about one of the textbook cases that dealt with issues around free speech: David Irving v Penguin Books Ltd. David Irving is a racist, anti-Semitic “historian” of the Third Reich and, of course, a Holocaust denier. Irving is British, and filed a libel suit again Penguin’s publication of Deborah Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust, which accused him of the above, along with falsifying, distorting and manipulating historical documents to push his racist agenda. Due to the UK’s strong libel laws, he attempted to sue her there—the case wouldn’t have had much of a chance in the US because of its strong laws protecting all forms of speech.
The film dramatizes the court case, and boasts two strong performances from Rachel Weisz as Lipstandt and Timothy Spall as Irving. Spall really steals the film because he perfectly captures the creepy vibe David Irving gives off. He gets the man’s arrogance—he is the one who brought the libel suit, after all. Spall’s performance also shows the man’s pathetic nature, and when the verdict is read out, he is broken. He soon goes bankrupt and, in an unrelated case, serves time in prison. He is still to this day pushing his disgusting views, but his audience is limited to neo-Nazis. Unfortunately, with Trump and Steve Bannon in the White House, his views are becoming mainstream conservative talking points.
Overall the film is a solid, well-made courtroom drama that asks and examines important, heavy questions. These are the kinds of questions that don’t have an easy answer. The film is helped enormously by the two leads and workmanlike direction from Mick Jackson, who actually directed Threads back in 1984. The disc’s sole feature is a “making of,” which is really just a glorified trailer.