How does the Director encourage the audience to feel sympathy for Derek and his family?
The film “Let Him Have It”, directed by Peter Medak, explores the now long forgotten case of Derek Bentley, Christopher Craig and PC Miles. It portrays the events of 2nd November 1952 to which we can only ever know certain things as fact. Bentley and Craig being there, on the Parker & Barlow factory rooftop, Croydon, for example. No-one is disputing this, or that Craig shot Miles. What we, as an audience, don’t know is whether Bentley assisted or provided support in any way, mental or otherwise, to the killer. The ensuing court case brought to a head the often muted, yet continual argument over the practice of capital punishment in the British justice system. The director felt very strongly about the film and subject, “I wanted to break the audience’s heart…”.
Medak’s feelings as an individual would have undoubtedly affected the film’s direction. This is noticeable because a normal reaction to murder would be outcry, anger and shock. After watching this film, many people feel these emotions, not sympathising with the police but with Derek. The director has used every tool at his disposal, including the lighting, dialogue, camera and other important aspects to act out his vision of the story. This means the film is wholly biased in favour of Derek.
The character Craig, sixteen, was illiterate and, it is clear, from watching the film and looking at factual evidence, he wanted to emulate Chicago – style gangsters. This is how the director wanted to portray Craig, trying to emphasize a contrast between him and Derek. Bentley, nineteen, suffered from a crippling epilepsy and was also illiterate. The film maker chose an actor with angelic features and face for Derek’s role, whilst Craig was played by someone that does look like a gangster. This is one of the many ways the director used to create sympathy for Bentley and his family.
Colour is also used to annotate which characters should be sympathised with and which the audience should be wary of. The audience grows accustomed to the sight of gold in the scenes with the family, which are generally brightly lit to try to welcome the audience in, as though it were welcoming and warm, and also the stark contrast of the harsh darkness of the gang scenes.
The first scene shown to the audience is that of war. The scene starts in total anarchy, amongst the blitz and destruction. Dialogue is very rapid, scared and sparse. There is very little lighting, but some objects are illuminated using an orange flame, to mirror the nearby burning houses. The camera pans from one corner of the set to the main focus of the opening frames, the fire engine. There is no music during this introduction sequence of the scene. This all adds to the suspense and fear the audience are feeling. The scene instantly sparks a response from the audience because of its origins. The war is used in many different productions to make the watchers spontaneously feel weak, let down and frightened. It is used for the same reasons in this film, too.
The first line audible over the babble of the crowd is that of an unknown female, “It’s Derek”. The camera then manoeuvres round the vehicle to reveal a collapsed house, with debris piled over a body. The shouting character is later revealed to be Iris Bentley, Derek’s sister. The family then dig Derek from the rubble, and the camera switches to a close-up shot of Derek’s face. He seems to be having some sort of fit, and the camera persists in showing the audience the character suffering. This technique is used throughout the film and works surprisingly well on a subliminal level.
The film then cuts to a scene with four boys, Derek and three others. Derek is bathed in light while the others are cloaked in shade. This technique is another subconscious message to the audience that Derek is just misunderstood and mislead. The light is always shining on him in such a way that he seems almost angelic. The other figures are shrouded is darkness, suggesting they are evil and will take any chance they get to grind Bentley down.
Derek’s companions proceed to break into a nearby shed while he “relieves himself” against a tree outside. This distances him from the action, separating him from the other troublesome youths. Derek is shouted from within and told to join them. As Bentley enters, the others start ransacking the inside. The contents of shelves are strewn onto the floor and the light bulb is smashed. As one boy covers the owner’s lunch in tea from his nearby vacuum flask, Derek attempts to pick up a water-logged sandwich. They are quick to knock the sandwich out of his hand.