Denial

Spoiler Alert: Reading this short post will reduce the dramatic impact of your watching of the film.

If there is no evidential basis for the assertions made, but there is proof that the person making those assertions is of the opinion that would wish those assertions to be true, then it is reasonable to say that there is a connection.

That’s my (inaccurate) recollection of the dénouement of the film Denial. I was deeply moved the other day when I had the opportunity to see Mick Jackson’s film of the David Irving/Deborah Lipstadt trial starring Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott (the actor best known for playing Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes). My school history teacher, Neil Eldred, had warned us off Irving way back in the late 1970s so I knew his name before the trail began and I remember that after the verdict, the media delighted in referring to him as a liar without fear of prosecution. The basics: In her book Denying the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt called Irving a Holocaust Denier as, in his book Hitler’s War he asserts that the Holocaust never happened and that Hitler knew nothing about the concentration camps. It’s obvious nonsense and the film is about the court case, brought by Irving against Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books.

The defence – not the prosecution – the defence had to prove that Lipstadt’s characterisation of Irving was correct. Much to Lispstadt’s frustration, the legal team focused the attention on Irving, not on the facts of the Holocaust itself (to which she has dedicated her academic life to studying). Lipstadt did not testify, Auschwitz survivors did not testify. This was about Irving, his character and his methods. Through quoting his writing and showing recordings of his speeches, they proved that Irving was a racist, sexist, anti-Semite and that the errors in his interpretation of original sources all tended the same way and were therefore deliberate.

I knew the outcome of the trial and yet the atmosphere leading up to the verdict was compelling. The concept of truth itself was on trial. The crunch, of course, comes at the end. It’s a tense moment when the judge asks whether it is correct to label someone as a liar if what they say, however incorrect, is what they truly believe. Whether this was the reality or not I can’t say but in terms of the drama, that is the question around which the whole case hinged and that led to the (inaccurate) quote above.

That’s what denialism is about. It’s not making honest mistakes, it’s not an erroneous interpretation, it’s the deliberate distortion of reality to present a view that is false. At the time of writing, the Brexit referendum is 7 months past and we’re about 7 weeks into the Trump presidency. The makers of Denial, by chance, have released their film at a time when the truth is very much on trial, which makes it all the more powerful.

Here are some facts:

There are people who deny all these facts.

We must all be in no doubt that those people are wrong.