Capital punishment has concerned the judicial system and civil rights groups for decades. LET HIM HAVE IT, based on a 1952 case in England which ended in the hanging of young Derek Bentley, has an immediacy that is proved by recent renewals of arguments pro and con in Britain's courts. Beginning with Bentley's (Chris Eccleston) childhood in war-torn England,...read more
Capital punishment has concerned the judicial system and civil rights groups for decades. LET HIM HAVE IT, based on a 1952 case in England which ended in the hanging of young Derek Bentley, has an immediacy that is proved by recent renewals of arguments pro and con in Britain's courts.
Beginning with Bentley's (Chris Eccleston) childhood in war-torn England, the film depicts his hardships and deprivations, as well as the class demarcations that help make Derek, a brain-damaged epileptic, an outcast. With the prevailing mores weakened by the sordidness and meanness of a world in
flux, there is a proliferation of guns. Lethal weapons are traded by schoolboys as casually as baseball cards. Also, the exciting diet of gangster films from the US is inspirational fodder for many of these amoral youngsters.
When Derek, now a shy teenager, meets cock o' the walk Chris Craig (Paul Reynolds), he readily succumbs to the youth's seductive charm. Craig, a smooth 16-year-old know-it-all, is the very image of macho, a small copy of a suave film gangster. Craig seems to accept the timid, sweet-natured Derek,
inspiring him to look sharp, walk tall and--especially--act tough. The grateful Derek, in turn, becomes his eager puppet.
Chris, Derek and two other boys plan to rob a butcher's shop, but abandon the idea when they discover the proprietor still inside. The two other boys leave but, undaunted, Chris and Derek go on to a nearby candy factory. Spotted on the roof, the pair are quickly surrounded by armed police, and in
the ensuing battle Chris shoots two of the officers, one of them fatally, after Bentley goads him on, shouting "Let him have it!" Quickly apprehended, their case gives the government an opportunity to restore order in the midst of chaotic turmoil and rampant lawlessness. Their trial lasts just two
days. Since Craig is just 16, he is sentenced to life imprisonment. Bentley, almost 19, is condemned to death and denied an appeal. He is hanged on January 28, 1953.
Directed by Peter Medak (THE KRAYS) from the screenplay by Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, LET HIM HAVE IT is a stirring film which leads the viewer to empathetic resolve. From the beginning of the film to its close, we never doubt the basic innocence of Derek Bentley, who, though guilty of goading
Chris Craig on, was innocent of the act itself. This must be credited to Medak's directorial grasp and commitment.
In the difficult role of Derek, Chris Eccleston is totally convincing, his affability and instinctive good-naturedness never eliciting a reaction that he is just a "retard." Equally fine is Paul Reynolds as Craig. Both Tom Courtenay and Eileen Atkins, who portray his caring and concerned parents,
overly strict and often demanding, are splendid in their roles, as is the rest of the cast.
LET HIM HAVE IT created a stir throughout the British Commonwealth and when it was released there in September 1991, it was at a most opportune time--just weeks earlier, spurred by Iris Bentley's campaign for the posthumous pardon of her brother, the Home Office had reopened an inquiry into the