When university professor Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) includes World War II historian David Irving (Timothy Spall) in a book about Holocaust deniers, Irving accuses her of libel and sparks a legal battle for historical truth. With the burden of proof placed on the accused, Lipstadt and her legal team fight to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.
If you haven’t been following me on social media (which you should BTW), you would have known that this is the second time I’ve seen this film. The reason for seeing this the second time was that I wasn’t feeling well the first time so I decided to give it a fair chance by seeing it again.
Based on a real story, professor Deborah E. Lipstadt (Weisz) faces a defamation lawsuit (or libel) from fellow historian David Irving (Spall) when she accuses Irving of being a holocaust denier in one of her books. Because Irving filed his suit in the United Kingdom, the burden of proof is on the accused, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team, led by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) and Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), to prove that Irving specifically knew he was lying in claiming the Holocaust did not occur.
The plot itself is rather straightforward, consisting of introducing us to Lipstadt and Irving in the moments leading up to her legal trouble and her legal team, followed by her trial. We learn that Lipstadt is a determined holocaust historian whose strong views lead her to challenge Irving in court instead of settling as it would mean giving up. The film gives us a glimpse of Irving through some archival footage and an early scene (from the trailers) where he confronts Lipstadt during one of her speeches.
Most of the remainder of the film deals with her trial, from the gathering of information, including a memorable trip to Auschwitz, to the trial. The court scenes were great to watch, seeing Rampton and Irving face each other but were also frustrating due to the lack of involvement of Lipstadt. It was very easy to get frustrated with her as Rampton and Julius deliberately kept her out of the process so it would have been nice to see more of it. Because of the focus on the trial, the film lacked any depth with the characters, only hinting at it.
The film gave Lipstadt something to do which involved dealing with some Holocaust survivors who desperately wanted to testify during the trial. Since Rampton and Julius wanted to avoid putting the Holocaust on trial and keeping the focus on Irving, this was cause of frustration for her as her dedication towards the Jews led her to battle Rampton and Julius as she wanted to keep a shred of her dignity. She had to learn to trust others which was her only real progression.
The court scenes were interesting in that all the dialogue in the courtroom scenes were taken verbatim from the trial records.The more British nature of the proceedings made them feel slightly different but was still pretty standard fare. During these scenes, we got to learn details about the Holocaust, or at least what happened around World War II, (or at least things I didn’t know). Too many court scenes would have been boring but it would have been nice to see more because all we got to see were a few key moments where Rampton grilled Irving.
The acting was excellent all around with all three leads standing out thanks to their chemistry and were compelling to watch. Weisz’s accent may get to some but was okay. She was great at portraying Lipstadt’s dedication and inner conflict as her beliefs were being challenged. Wilkinson was full of charm. Spall was the character that was fun to hate but his lack of depth made him come off as a caricature. Wilkinson and Spall’s presence elevated the court scenes.
Overall, this was a good historical court drama, with a shallow story, and excellent performances.