Let Him Have It (1991)
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Christopher Eccleston is absolutely brilliant playing Bentley, and truly captures the inner torment and diffidence of a young man suffering from years of epilepsy and failure at school. Bentley is clearly not normal and probably more impressionable than most people of his age this is the essence of this tragic story. He wants to be like everyone else but stupidly chooses the wrong people or do they choose him?
You are never sure whether Bentley's friend Chris Craig (the brilliant Paul Reynolds) is a nasty piece of work or maybe someone else led astray, this time by his truly monstrous, menacing older brother Niven Craig (Mark McGann) who he sees receiving 10 years for armed resistance to police arrest. Who is Craig - is he Pinkie in Brighton Rock (Boulting 1947), Jimmy Hanley in the Blue Lamp (Dearden, 1950) or one of the famous five with a gun?
After his brother's trial, Chris lies down at night and then rather poignantly and in a nice little flourish from director Peter Medak lays down his handgun on his bedside table, finding a gap amongst his toy cars, trams and aeroplanes. Perhaps he's just a naïve little kid after all.
When the gang goes to the cinema what else would they watch but a Jimmy Cagney gangster movie? Maybe if they'd watched the Blue Lamp instead they would have been warned off.
Anyway, Bentley clearly did not murder the policeman on the rooftop - that was Craig (some say it was a policeman's bullet gone astray). Bentley was executed for a crime he did not commit, pure and simple.
Good, haunting musical score by Michael Kamen.
Derek Bentley was one of the most unfortunate men to suffer the death penalty in Britain. He was mentally sub-normal, he didn't kill anyone personally and even his fatal cry to his accomplice, Christopher Craig, echoed in this film's title, was disputed in court and is anyway ambiguous in meaning. And even after his conviction, both judge and jury recommended clemency. But a policeman had died, Craig (who shot him) was too young to hang and so Bentley was murdered by the state.
The strength of Peter Medak's reconstruction of these events is that neither man is presented as a devil or an angel; Craig (played by Paul Reynolds) is just a boy with fantasies of becoming a gangster (but no less dangerous for that); Bentley (Chris Ecclestone) a sad and lonely figure, motivated by the desperate need to belong. Both young actors are excellent. Their portrayals are set against a bleak but convincing backdrop of the forgotten rhythms of life in austerity Britain, a period (perhaps because it predated rock and roll) rarely celebrated by cheap nostalgia.
'Let Him Have It' is not the most entertaining film ever made, but its power grows as you watch it. Certainly a film with the power to make proponents of the death penalty uneasy.
the plot isn't the primary focus of this film, however compelling and obviously important it is. The film centres on the relationships between Derek and those he knows, his family, Chris, and the gang that he and Chris join (Derek for acceptance, and Chris to emulate the American gangsters he sees at the cinema and impress his thuggish brother). The cast are totally convincing, Christopher Eccleston giving a very accomplished performance as a simple man thrust into complex circumstances, and Paul Reynolds is also perfect as the playful but insecure troublemaker who fires the fatal shot. the film is essentially an account of the interactions and emotions of a small group of people put in a terrible situation, of innocence robbed, and of state brutality (you'll clench your fists at the ignorance and insensitivity). it's not an explosive film, it doesn't throw up audiovisual storms of any kind, it just follows the lives of these characters, rooting the film in the reality on which it is based. i cried at the end you know, i thought i might and then i did, it's one of those sorts of films. but please do watch it, i promise it's more interesting than i've made it sound.
They're not benign impulses either. Britain was a nation of shopkeepers, as someone said, and there are lots of shops around to be burglarized and robbed. The gang members imitate in their dress and style the villains of the films noir they're seeing on the screen. (One imagines Tommy Udo as prima inter pares.) They dress in suits and ties, black overcoats, and black fedoras. They may carry knives and brass knuckles, and sometimes one or two of them may carry a pistol, giving them an advantage of sorts over the unarmed police.
Eccleston and his Jungian shadow, a young kid played by Paul Reynolds, are interrupted during a burglary. The police officer who intrudes manages to clap his hands on the pliant Eccleston and put him under arrest before Reynold whips out his pistol and wounds the officer in the shoulder. A horde of cops descend upon the rooftop scene because, London not being Newark, all those noisy gunshots are disturbing the public. Reynold manages, perhaps half accidentally, to shoot a constable through the forehead. Then he jumps off the roof and is captured.
That shoot out is interesting. Paul Reynolds does a fine job of projecting the exhilaration a feral kid can feel when his reptilian brain is unleashed, shooting wildly in the air, pinging bullets off his surroundings. The adrenalin rush doesn't last long but while it does, you're the monarch of all you survey. You -- how do the firing range cadre put it? -- you "command your environment." Through all this brouhaha Eccleston has been behaving like the dumb but essentially harmless kid he is. When the first officer on the scene tells Reynold to give up the gun, Eccleston shouts, "Let him have it," meaning give him the gun. When the officer is shot and helpless, Eccleston doesn't try to escape.
At the trial, that shout -- "Let him have it!" -- is interpreted by the jury as meaning, "Shoot him!" Reynolds, only sixteen years old, is given an indeterminate sentence. Eccleston, nineteen, is sentenced to hang despite the jury's verdict of "guilty but with a recommendation of mercy." It's a true story. The trial generated not just publicity but outrage at the sentence imposed on Eccleston. He was hanged apace, but the obvious miscarriage challenged the mortmain of the death penalty and led to Britain's joining the rest of the Western societies in banning capital punishment.
The film is "thoughtful" and made for adults. Eccleston is no hero. He's a disturbed and stupid kid who hangs out with people in his neighborhood, as all kids do, only these kids are kind of malignant.
I'll give an example of how this movie could have gone irretrievably wrong. It could have followed the model already established, and imitated many times, and given us an extremely detailed description of the preparation of the inmate for execution. See "Ted Bundy" for a beacon of meretriciousness. Instead, there are a few relevant scenes of Eccleston in the slams, mostly discussing his appeal with his family. The execution itself is over with in two minutes. No long parade to the gallows led by a pastor reading from the Bible. No lugubrious climbing of thirteen steps. No inquiry from the warden about any last words. No last words.
Iris Bentley (Dereks mother) died in 1997 before the case was referred back to the Appeal Court.
In 1998 the Appeal Court quashed Bentley's conviction on the grounds the original trial judge was biased against the defendants and misdirected the jury on points of law.
Scientific evidence also showed the three police officers who testified about Bentley shouting "Let him have it" had lied under oath.
Craig served 10 years before being released.
Forget the examples of " Innocent " Irishman from republican ghettoes who just happened to be visiting England during IRA bombing campaigns during the mid 1970s and being " falsely accussed of crimes they didn`t commit " . The most glaring example of injustice is the case of Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig . Bentley and Craig were caught breaking into a warehouse in the 1950s . 19 year old Bentley was arrested by the police on the scene . Minutes later 16 year old Craig shot a policeman dead . Guess who the state hung for the murder of the cop ? That`s right the 19 year old who was already in police custody and had nothing to do with the shooting
I repeat this is the greatest injustice ever carried out by an English court , a great wrong that can never be put right was carried out . However I do have a problem with LET HIM HAVE IT and that is in the portrayal of Christopher Craig . Poor Christopher , poor poor Christopher who shot a policeman was really a victim of the system . He grew up in poverty , he was surrounded by criminals , guns were easy to access , all those Hollywood movies put ideas into young Christopher`s head and tradgedy of tragedies Christopher`s big brother was arrested by the old bill and sentenced to a long prison term . Poor unfortunate Christopher , what chance did he have in life ? or at least that`s what the film seems to be trying to tell us . It also insinuates that he actually shot the policeman ( Whose name I`ve forgotten - You do get the impression only Bentley and Craig are the victims here ) by accident . And there`s an incident that goes against all the other accounts I`ve read on the case - The scene where Craig " falls " off the roof . I`ve read elsewhere from several sources that Craig shouted " Give my love to < His girlfriend > " and jumped . Instead we see a revenge filled Fairfax growling at Craig with the heavy hint that the criminal was thrown off the roof by the detective .
There`s one other thing that bothered me about the events in this account . There`s a lot of sympathy for both Bentley and Craig ( perhaps too much sympathy for the latter ) so why did the film show the most controversial aspect of that fateful night ? This is where Bentley screams " Let him have it Chris " , hence the title . Over the years Craig is on record as saying that Bentley had said no such thing and that the police had lied and despite what he`d done in the past there`s absolutely no motive whatsoever for Craig to keep up this pretence . It`s almost certain the police at the trial lied under oath by saying Bentley somehow encouraged Craig . Of course in those days lawyers , judges and most especially juries believed what the police would tell them and it`s strange that a film with cynical 1990s sensibilities seems to take what the police said on that night as gospel truth . In many ways it jars with the bleeding heart attitude that makes up the rest of the film .
Flaws aside I`ll give the film its due . The director has picked a very good cast with Brit vets Tom Courtenay and Tom Bell adding experience to the two newbie stars of the film : Paul Reynolds who unfortunately seems to have disappeared and Christopher Eccleston who`s great here and is great in everything else he`s done which gives hope to even the most disillusioned DOCTOR WHO fan
So watch the film and decide for yourself what you think about the death penalty . Bare in mind that there were two victims that night and neither of them were Christopher Craig
Some of the acting performances in this film are truly immense. The film-makers do a great job in recreating the dark gloomy streets of 1950's London. Having watched this film it is hard to see why the two young actors in the lead roles never went on to star in many more motion pictures. To summarise there are no real weaknesses in the telling of this tragic tale, I Would recommend this film to all who want to watch a powerful emotional story.
We start with a cute boy dazed in the blitz of 1940s London. A little dim witted, he takes the rap (American Jive: catches the case) for some local hooligans and ends up remanded to juvy where he comes of age.
There's a glimmer of Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) from Angels with Dirty Faces in Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) but unlike Rocky Sullivan who's a nihilist by choice, poor Derek is a bit too simple to understand.
The path might have led to rehabilitation but for the bad environment. In an ambiguous situation, miscalculation leads to the unforgivable and now Derek Bentley faces the gallows.
The story might have drifted into a self-indulgent, tear-jerking, liberal sensitivity philippic except that the film kept its objectivity on the central issue.
Oh there is the usual liberal hue and cry: the police lied to juice up their case (as they usually do), the lawyers poor people get are incompetent (a wide range of abilities might be more charitable), justice even Her Majesty can be a little cold to cop killers, the wrong people get off easy on loopholes etc.
However the authors, surprising for the American writer, kept an English sense of fairness on the critical question.
Did Derek Bentley rightly go to the gallows for what he done? See the film. Comparable Films: Hoodlum Priest
Whatever your views on the death penalty this film will make you stop and think. Its supporters will be forced to see the issue in a new light and those who campaigned for its abolition will have their views reaffirmed.This is not an easy film to watch but it is well worth it and the conclusion will stay with you for a very long time.
I first watched this film in school - it had all the girls in my English class in tears. It sparked an interest in capital punishment, which I am now pursuing in depth (being very much against). The good thing about this film is that it is very much accurate, so you do get the real picture of the Bentley/Craig case. This film stirs emotion well: it certainly makes me feel angry.
To summarise, Let Him Have It is a film about Derek Bently, an innocent man who was executed in England in 1953 for the murder of a policeman. Not only was he innocent, but he was very easily-led by Christopher Craig (the murderer) as he had a mental age of only 11-years-old. The world now knows that Bentley is innocent, and his sister, Irene, managed to get his pardon from the government... shame we executed him, isn't it? IF YOU DO NOT LIKE THIS FILM, YOU ARE HEARTLESS!
Christopher Eccleston is wonderful and raw in it and gives a very vulnerable and yet gritty performance without camping it up at all. Also the lady who plays his Mum is wonderful (sorry, can't remember the actresses name).
In November 1952 Craig, with Bentley under his influence decide to rob a confectionery business in Croydon, London but are observed climbing onto the roof of the building and are reported to the police.
When the police arrive and apprehend the youths, Craig opens fire on the officers from a concealed gun killing P.C. Miles, although Bentley has already surrendered beforehand to Detective Fairfax, already wounded by Craig in an earlier part of the shootout.
At the following trial of the two youths for murder, the already biased Lord Chief Justice Goddard is determined to exact the supreme vengeance on the perpetrators of this crime. Craig who fired the shot killing the Police Constable is detained at Her Majesty's pleasure being a juvenile under the age of 16 years. Bentley aged 19 and considered an adult is sentenced to death as an accomplice.
Despite a public outcry over Bentley's fate, and petitions made to save him from the gallows, the Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe refuses to grant him a reprieve,and Bentley is hanged on 28th January 1953.
The great irony of this case is that the Home Secretary was the successful chief British Prosecutor of the Nazi War Criminals in 1946 in Nuremburg but tarnished his reputation in a most disgraceful manner in the way he treated the semi-illiterate Derek Bentley who was made the condemned victim for his part in this crime because the real killer could not face the supreme penalty.
The other most shameful and disgusting aspect of this case is that it took over 45 years for the unforgiving self righteous British law courts and representations to the various Governments of the day, to finally overturn the conviction of Derek Bentley, although both his parents had died beforehand, but at least give the rest of his surviving family the satisfaction of knowing that his sentence was totally improper and unjust.
Christopher Eccleston gives a fine performance as Derek Bentley, along with Tom Courtenay as Bentley's father, who wages a relentless but futile attempt to save his son from his fate. The rest of the supporting cast is great.
A must see for those who think justice is blind and fair to everyone.