| Anthony Hopkins (AFP)
June 30: The trial of David Irving, the British historian branded a Holocaust denier by a high court judge, is to be turned into a £10-million drama, expected to star Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Ridley Scott, the director of Gladiator and Alien, is to produce the film, based on the libel trial three years ago in which Irving was called an “anti-Semite and racist” who “distorted historical data to suit his own political agenda”.
The declaration effectively ended Irving’s career, during which he had argued that Hitler did not plan a “Final Solution” for Jews. His court defeat was hailed by campaigners against Holocaust denial.
The film is being scripted by Ronald Harwood, who won an Oscar last year for the screenplay of the Holocaust drama The Pianist. Scott is keen for the role of Irving to be played by Hopkins, who won fame as the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
One senior executive involved in the project said: “The film will be the definitive story of the trial and its role in the Holocaust story. As far as both Scott and Harwood are concerned, Hopkins has the first say on the role. The part is his for the asking.”
The drama is being produced by HBO, the American production company behind The Gathering Storm, the recent award-winning drama about Churchill starring Albert Finney, on which Scott was executive producer.
The Irving libel trial came about after American historian Deborah Lipstadt condemned him in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. Irving sued, saying the description of him as a man prepared to bend historical evidence “until it conforms with his ideological leanings and political agenda” was damaging to his career.
Irving — a heroic figure to some far-Right groups — represented himself during the trial, in which he argued that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis had been exaggerated and that there had been no programme of “systematic extermination”.
However, Justice Gray ruled that Irving was an anti-Semitic racist whose claims were demonstrably untrue, and ordered him to meet the £2.5 million costs of the case. An appeal by Irving was rejected and he has since been declared bankrupt.
Professor Lipstadt has discussed the script with Harwood and is very enthusiastic about the film project. “I am very pleased that Ronald is involved and that the film is being done by the team behind The Gathering Storm,” she said.
"There is always a danger with things like this that they can end up generating publicity for people who don't deserve publicity. I don't think that will happen here: these are serious people who will bring a professional and committed approach to the story."
Irving, 63, told The Telegraph he had not been approached by anyone connected with the project, but added that he would be happy to help whoever was going to portray him.
"I'm relatively relaxed about the whole thing," he said. "If it is an accurate portrayal, they'll have to reflect some of my arguments and show that I was fighting on my own against a massive team of lawyers."
He thought the American public found Holocaust dramas "a big turn-off", but added: "I think a story like this will work best as a courtroom drama. I just hope they give me a fair crack of the whip."