I saw the trailer for this 2017 movie several times and told myself I must watch it. However, I was down with a very nasty flu when it was shown. So I was very happy to find the DVD on the library shelves earlier this week.
It is based on the book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier by Deborah E. Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), a professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, who has also written many other books.
War is a bloody business; how do we prove that the Holocaust happened? How do we know that so many people were murdered? At one of her public lectures, a Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) raises a different opinion and threatens to sue her. Their battle for historical truth begins when Irving files a libel suit at the High Court in London. He will be his own counsel and Lipstadt is represented by a team of attorneys and barristers engaged by Penguin Books Ltd in London because they’ve failed to withdraw the book.
Lipstadt’s legal team consists of eight lawyers, including Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), Laura Tyler (Carin Pistorius) and leading counsel Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), the team who defended D. H. Lawrence and Salman Rushdie.
The case takes them to Krakow, Poland and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp and the State Museum, which lends authenthicity to the story. The actual locations and the dialogues between the characters bring back vivid memories of when I visited the place with my students on a history tour. Appropriately, the music used here includes Chopin’s Largo from his Piano Sonata No 3 in B minor.
Two other notable pieces of music used to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the story are Mozart’s Dies bildnis ist bezaubernd schon (“This image is enchantingly lovely“), an aria from his opera The Magic Flute, and Schubert’s mournful and gloomy song cycle, Die Winterreise.
The trial took 22 days, costing over three million pounds, and the judge took four weeks to consider judgment. The verdict was not disclosed at the end of a 334-page document distributed to all present, but only after the pages have been read out in court.
The press conference that follows the verdict is very moving. I did not expect to be in tears at the end.