"Let Him Have It" How effective is the end of the film in gaining the viewer's sympathy for Derek Bentley and his family?

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Katie Bradford

“Let Him Have It”

How effective is the end of the film in gaining the viewer’s sympathy for Derek Bentley and his family?

     In 1991, the opportunity arose for Peter Medak to direct the film, ‘Let Him Have It,’ the true story of how Derek Bentley, a brain damaged, epileptic teenager was tried and executed for murder in the 1950’s. During the period of 1991, Medak felt that the issues surrounding capital punishment needed to be brought to the forefront of public consciousness. He was convinced, as many other English people were, that young, slightly retarded Derek Bentley was railroaded by the British justice system. The perpetual campaigning for his innocence and detailed media coverage over many years would have ensured Medak that he would receive a great public response from his representation of events.

     ‘Let Him Have It’ shows how Derek Bentley, a shy introverted character, becomes involved with a group of youths who lure him into a life of petty crime. Derek’s concerns over the activities of the gang are soon dismissed when he realises, Chris Craig, the arrogant and egotistical leader, is essentially his only friend. At this point, the audience can sense it’s only a matter of time before something dreadful occurs and as the story unfolds we see that their feelings are substantiated.  

     On the 2nd November 1952 Derek and his gun-wielding companion, Chris, find themselves cornered by the police on the top of a warehouse roof they were in the process of burgling. With Chris’ impulsive mind the situation seems destined to end in disaster and it’s apparent to the audience that Derek will be an innocent victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chaos breaks out at the scene of the crime and ultimately Chris shoots a policeman to death, as Derek watches helplessly.

     As the two defendants, Derek and Chris, stand trial several weeks later it becomes evident that Chris Craig could not be sentenced to death, following the murderous activity, since he was below the minimum age for execution. Many contentious points were disclosed at the trial and astoundingly the judge revealed to the jury that Derek Bentley was equally guilty of firing the shot. After just 75 minutes of discussion the jury found both Derek and Chris guilty of the murder charges even though Derek never had been in contact with the gun.

     Despite Derek having a mental age of just 11 years old, in the eyes of the law it wasn’t significant, as his actual age was all that they accounted for. With this being above 18 years old, the weak and vulnerable character was sentenced to death regardless of the jury’s recommendation to mercy.

     On the 28th January 1953, Derek Bentley was hanged whilst Christopher Craig served just 10 years in prison.

     ‘Let Him Have It,’ is particularly controversial in comparison to many other films because it deals with a real life situation. The topic has created numerous debates over whether Bentley should have been hanged or not from the evidence that was disclosed. The fact that the outcome of Derek’s trial led to his death makes people more inclined to give their personal opinion, expressing how they really feel about the case.

     The ambiguous phrase ‘Let Him Have It,’ that Derek exclaimed as Chris was about to open fire, causes most of the controversy. Did he mean, ‘Let him have the gun’ or ‘Shoot him?’ The fact of Derek’s mental age also created disputes as it was clear he was mentally subnormal and ill prepared to undergo cross-examination at that period in time.

     From my knowledge of the case I think that Derek Bentley suffered a terrible miscarriage of justice. He was below the mental age of criminal responsibility and shouldn’t have even been on trial. Derek hadn’t once been in contact with the murder weapon and was already arrested when Chris opened fire. The evidence alone is enough to liberate Derek from his charges but an error of judgement caused his freedom to be withheld. I also believe that the statement ‘Let Him Have It’, exclaimed by Bentley is inconclusive to what his intentions were and nobody can be certain that the policeman’s death was at Derek’s request.

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The last chapter of the film, ‘Cheerio’, is very effective in gaining the viewer’s sympathy for Derek Bentley and his family. The director uses numerous different aspects of cinematography to try and get his purpose across.

     Lighting is one of the most significant areas in cinematography. It enables the director to show people or objects in the way in which they want them to seen.

     In the beginning of ‘Let Him Have It’, when the family are visiting Derek in prison, most of the light is artificial as it creates a dull and eerie ...

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