November 22, 2016 -- This courtroom drama set in England reminded me of another courtroom drama written by Leon Uris, “QB VII,” later made into a 1974 miniseries. It was based on a British defamation trial (Dering v Uris). This film is also based on an actual, similar, British trial. It was brought by a Holocaust denier, David Irving, against an American historian, Deborah Lipstadt.
Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz) wants no part of a dispute between herself and Irving (played by Timothy Spall of “Mr. Turner”) but is drawn into the libel suit because she refuses to settle the case out of court for what she wrote about Irving in her book “Denying the Halocaust.” She later finds out that libel law in England is very different than in the U.S., where the burden of proof is on the prosecution. In England, the defense, in this case, has to prove intentional, malicious, misrepresentation of history in Irving's books and speeches.
Lipstadt is very frustrated by the British legal system in this case, and by the legal strategy employed by her lawyers, solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott of “Spectre”) and barrister (who conducts the case in the courtroom) Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson of “Snowden”).
Lipstadt's legal team has decided she will not be called to the stand to testify on her own behalf, and further, that no Holocaust survivors will be called to the stand to testify, either. She is furious and fights against these strategies.
If this had been a film based on a fictional story, you can bet Lipstadt would have gotten her way in this argument. She would have testified, and Holocaust survivors would have been on the stand, too, and their testimony would have been a key factor in the verdict.
That is what I expected, not knowing the history of this case beforehand. I kept on expecting it throughout the movie, but I kept being surprised. That is one of the things about depictions of real events in films, they don't necessarily follow the conventions of Hollywood scripts. I have to tell you, this aspect of the film was unsettling.
This is a well-acted and well-written film that kept me guessing right up to the end, mainly because the story defies courtroom drama conventions. Weisz, Spall, Wilkinson and Scott all give fine performances in this film. One hallmark of a good film about real events, for me, at least, is that afterwards I feel compelled to do some research into what happened to the real people depicted in the film. I did so after seeing this film. This film rates a B.
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