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Denial—‘Take the gloves off and call it lying’

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Issue 2539
Timothy Spall as Holocaust denier David Irving in the new film Denial
Timothy Spall as Holocaust denier David Irving in the new film Denial

David Irving is a Nazi and Holocaust denier who masqueraded as a respectable military historian in order to push antisemitic propaganda.

We can openly write this because Irving lost a landmark libel trial against US historian Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books in 2000.

Director Mick Jackson’s latest film Denial is a dramatic and truthful account of this battle.

Mick told Socialist Worker, “As Deborah says, this is a movie about truth, lies and opinions.

“When you make a movie about truth and lies, you have to be truthful to the story and yourself as a filmmaker. Even if that structure makes the film less exciting in a normal narrative sense, that’s what you have to do.”

All the dialogue in the court room is taken directly from transcripts.

Portraying Irving was bound to be difficult, but Timothy Spall is eerily convincing as a ruling class, racist character.

Irving tries to bat accusations of racism away by telling reporters that he has black servants—a rich man’s take on “I have black friends”.

Some might find Irving to be a ridiculous, bumbling racist, not a dangerous Nazi. He didn’t walk around in a black shirt and was accepted by high society as a serious, if “eccentric” right wing historian.

Mick explained, “We didn’t make up a character for Irving or psychoanalyse him.

“Everything we put into Timothy Spall’s mouth had come out of Irving’s mouth, whether that was in a speech or interview he gave or article or book he’d written. They are all Irving’s own words”.

But, Mick added, “We had to leave out some of the more extreme things Irving said. In the summing up of the trial, Irving meant to say ‘My Lord’ to the judge but said ‘Mein Fuhrer’ without realising.

“It would sound like we made it up, because it just sounds so ridiculous.”

During the trial, Irving is boxed in and denied the chance to talk his way out through rhetoric.

Mick said, “In a crowd of tens of thousands, you can deflect a question with a witty comment like a stand-up comic and listen to the crowd roar.

“But in the courtroom someone is saying, ‘You must answer the question, Mr Irving’, ‘You said this, on this occasion and then said the opposite—are you lying?’”

Nonetheless, listening to Irving makes uncomfortable viewing.


The scenes outside the courtroom are some of the best, and they’re also closely based on reality.

Through them the film manages to pull off a hard balancing act—between the drama of the courtroom and having to deal with the Holocaust.

This dilemma is reflected in the real, running tension between Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and barrister Richard Rampton QC (Tom Wilkinson) outside the courtroom.

“When Rampton and Lipstadt met, they were talking two different languages,” said Mick.

“She’s talking the language of moral dedication and passion, he’s talking the language of law, logic and strategy—and they seem to be passing each other.”

Mick explained that this tension is “where Denial’s double meaning comes in”.

“Deborah has to deny herself to serve the truth, because Irving is denying the truth to serve himself,” he said.

At the beginning Lipstadt is told that Britain is a club, which Irving has always tried to be part of.

When he loses the case, Irving goes to shake Rampton’s hand, as if it was all a game of cricket at Lord’s. Rampton turns his back—Irving has been cast out, with no hope of getting back in.

That he was ever in “the club” speaks volumes.

Denial will bring an important story to a new generation. For Mick the film has a wider significance.

“The resonances of the story are still going to be topical—it’s been amazing how immediate that’s been in the last few months,” Mick said.

“Alternative facts, fake news, campaign rhetoric—these are all euphemisms for lying.”

He added, “The mainstream media in the US, particularly the New York Times newspaper, have been slow to use the word lie. Instead they will say something like, ‘Radically at odds with what others say’.

“I think it’s time to take the gloves off and when lying is practised to name it as lying—that’s what happens in this courtroom.”

William Cuffay and the London Chartists

Hassan Mahamdallie, author of Crossing the River of Fire—The Socialism of William Morris, shares his thoughts on William Cuffay and the London Chartists.

The 1832 Reform Act extended the vote to more men with property but the working class still did not have a vote. A national campaign involving men and women called for change and they became known as the Chartists, the first mass working class movement in Britain.

Red Saunders’ reimagined photograph—on display in the gallery—of a meeting of the London Chartists in 1842 features William Cuffay, the son of a slave and the elected president of the London Chartists.

Cuffay was transported to Tasmania for his endeavours, later pardoned, and continued to be politically active there.

13 February, 7.30pm. Tickets £5 (booking recommended), [email protected] or 07973 443 030
William Morris Gallery Lloyd Park, Forest Rd. London E17 4PP.

He will not divide us

the public is invited to say, “He will not divide us” into a camera mounted on a wall outside a museum in New York, repeating the phrase as many times and for as long as they wish.

Open to all, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it is being live-streamed continuously for four years

—or for the duration of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The installation was set up by actor Shia LaBoeuf, who was then arrested after a livestreamed confrontation with a Nazi.

It can be tedious, but skipping back through the live feed can reveal some gems. If you’ve some spare time, give it a watch.

Museum of the Moving Image, New York. Online at

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