Memories of Ashes
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Mark Gatiss, Sally Messham and Nikki Arnuka-Bird
Director: Mick Jackson
Scriptwriter: David Hare based on Deborah E. Lipstadt’s book
Composer: Howard Shore
Cinematographer: Haris Zambarlovkos
Rating: R for themed material and unsettling images
Running Length: 110 minutes
Denying the Holocaust ever happened. Yes, there are those in the population who claim this---and therein lies the story of “Denial.” This is the argument between an American professor, Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), and British historian, David Irving (Timothy Spall.) Irving says there is no actual proof of a Holocaust or gas chambers or direct orders to exterminate the Jewish population. It is 1993 and Irving gets tired of Lipstadt talking about him, so he sues her for libel, and because he is a British citizen---in a British court.
The film begins and is interspersed with scenes of Deborah jogging. This clears her mind, before and during the trial. At one of Deborah’s lectures, in which she pointedly talks about Irving, he is actually present and calls her out about her comments. She refuses to take the bait and has security escort him out, whereby, he sells, or gives away free, copies of his books in the outer lobby. You can see the opposites here. Deborah Lipstadt is stoic and firm in her belief, while Irving is more of a free spirit, only too willing to talk to anyone and even offers a reward if someone can prove his theories correct. You, also, get to see the living conditions of both Lipstadt and Irving. She lives alone with a dog while he has a young child and a housekeeper.The case goes to court, in Britain, in front of a judge (no jury), and Irving is representing himself. Deborah, on the other hand, has lawyers galore provided by her publisher. In Britain, you have two legal counsels. One gathers the information in minute detail (Andrew Scott who is “Moriarity” in the Sherlock Holmes PBS series) and the other who presents the case in court, wig and all---Tom Wilkinson. Deborah has little to say, as the others plot their strategy. The legal group needs to prove that Irving knew and spoke about the Holocaust happening, way before he began his books against it. Deborah’s comments would, then, not be libel. The group is formal and to the point, while Deborah is lenient and their point of contention is whether to allow Holocaust survivors who witnessed events, to testify or not. Along the way, there are threats and the trial goes on.
Rachel Weisz does not seem comfortable in the role of Deborah Lipstadt. Her accent is somewhere between Brooklyn and Britain, and at times, her acting is stiff. Her best scenes are at Auschwitz, where she and Wilkinson go to see what used to be gas chambers and when she is telling why her name is "Deborah." Tom Wilkinson, on the other hand, as does Andrew Scott, fit into their roles as legal counsels. Scott likes to be the center of attention, while Wilkinson is at the sidelines studying everyone. When Wilkinson delivers his statements in court, it’s like a puma stalking its prey. Timothy Spall is mannerly, the man who thinks he is right about his assertions, and has an answer of rebuttal to every question. Ever the person who thinks he has been harmed in the writing field.
Much of the action takes place either in the legal counsel rooms or in the courtroom. The scenes at Auschwitz are heart-breaking and special permission was granted to film there. This is a depressing film in that such a disaster would be researched in a court of law to see if it happened or not. That is like researching WWII in a lawsuit to see if that war really happened across the globe. Irving trying to prove that Hitler was a friend to the Jewish population is a wrong way decision.
Copyright 2016 Marie Asner