This film is called Let Him Have It. It was produced in 1991 written by Neil Purvus and Robert Wade and directed by Peter Medak. The film stars top actor Christopher Eccleston who has starred in other good films such as Gone In Sixty Seconds and Shallow Grave. Let Him Have It is set in the 1950’s, about a 18 year old boy who is wrongfully hanged for murder. This film is a real life drama and extremely emotive, persuasive and hard hitting. In this essay I am going to discuss how the director Peter Medak portrays Derek in a sympathetic light, paying close attention to the opening scenes. Derek Bentley lived an extremely tough childhood.
The Director shows this in the opening scenes as the film begins very dramatically. As the credits come up there is slow haunting music which makes the viewer wary and scared. Also the screen is black so the viewer also assumes that something terrible has happened. The music then fades into the sound of screams and explosions however the screen remains black, this intrigues the viewer. The camera then moves into the scene where the war zone is and as the camera zooms around you can see fire engines and ambulances, so the viewer feels that a lot of destruction and injuries have been caused.
You also see a teddy in a dirty puddle, so the viewer thinks that children could be harmed. The camera then zooms in on some rocks, one by one a rock is taken off, this builds up a lot of dramatic tension and suspense. As the bricks are removed the viewer witnesses the very helpless Derek Bentley for the very first time, the camera zooms in on him and he looks like he’s having an epileptic fit and blood is running from his head. These are very emotive images as we see Derek Bentley for the first time, the viewer engages sympathy for Derek immediately.
After the war scene some years later we see Derek Bentley attending a approved school, this also adds to Derek’s tough childhood, which adds sympathy for Derek. Derek Bentley’s epilepsy and medical health is another way in which the director Peter Medak portrays Derek in a sympathetic light to the viewer. When Derek is uncovered from the opening scenes we witness him having an epileptic fit and he looks to be in some pain. Towards this the viewer feels sympathy for Derek as we feel that it is not his fault, he is just a scared innocent little boy.
Another example of Derek’s epilepsy is when Derek breaks into the shed with his friends and gets caught by the watchman who shines a torch in his eyes, Derek backs into the corner and falls beginning to have a fit. Derek seems to be very scared as his eyes are rolling back and he is shaking. The viewer feels compassion for Derek as he is very scared and vulnerable. There also seems to be fear in the watchman’s voice and eyes, he seems to be uncertain and scared like the viewer. Because Derek has a fit after the robbery the audience forget what he has done and feels sympathy towards him. This is very clever sympathetic sequencing.
The viewer wonders what is the cause of Derek’s medical illness. Was it because of the war? Was it genetic? Could Derek have of had a normal life? The audience feels sympathy as Derek is very unlucky and helpless. Derek Bentley has a very low IQ and the director shows this a lot to emphasise the sympathy for Derek to the audience. There are several scenes that show Derek’s low IQ. In the shed Derek tries to eat a sandwich that his friends have covered in coffee, his friends stop him. His friends smash a clock and Derek just laughs because he doesn’t understand, its just fun and games to him.
When the boys see the watchman coming Derek just stands there while his friends run, Derek’s initiative strays. He also says to the police that he was only playing. These scenes in the shed are an indication of Derek’s mentality. When Derek is 18 he has mind of a 10 year old. This makes the audience sympathise for Derek as he isn’t like normal people. Probably the most effective scene reflecting Derek’s low IQ is when he is listening to the ‘Wheel of fortune’ tune and begins to dance in a woodenly manner, swaying. He is on his own, the viewer thinks this is embarrassing, pathetic but endearing.
The songs lyrics are also significant as it is all about luck and Derek is very unlucky, the song represents Derek’s life in a way. This is all part of Peter Medak’s plan to get as much sympathy from the viewers as he possibly can before Derek is arrested. Derek Bentley’s consistent polite and good behaviour adds more sympathy towards him. I believe that even if Derek was rude or confrontational the viewer would feel sympathy towards him as he’s a young boy with an illness, however viewers feel sorry for Derek because he doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t deserve what he gets.
In the reform school Derek’s body language suggests that he is afraid and has little confidence as he is hunched up. Derek keeps out of everybody’s way and stays in his room all the time reading comics. His room is like his little sanctuary. Derek’s sister Iris, went into Derek’s room and said to him “someone asked me if you were dead”, Derek replied by saying “no one wants to see a person that went to a approved school”. This shows the audience that Derek Bentley has a serious lack of self confidence and this adds more sympathy for Derek. Derek has a very safe and secure family.
They are a hard-working middle class family with good-values. This suggests to the viewer that Derek has a safe life. However this results in a disadvantage for Derek as he isn’t exposed to the bad elements of life. Derek is not living in reality, he’s living in his own little world, his room. So because Derek hasn’t experienced the difficulties of life he won’t know how to react when he is faced with a difficult situation. In the scene when Derek is reading his comics and his sister, Iris enters, she cuddles him and kisses his forehead as you would a child.
This implies to the audience that he is still treated like a child, and even seen as one by his family. Later on in the film Derek’s family stand by and defend Derek a lot, even though he is accused of attempted theft and murder. This shows the viewer just how close the family are. In conclusion, I feel that there are three main reasons why the audience sympathises with Derek Bentley. His tough childhood, his medical illness and his low IQ. I also believe that Peter Medak interlinks each theme with each other.
I think Peter Medak emphasises each theme in order to gain more sympathy for Derek before he is arrested. A key moment in the opening scenes showing how Derek’s low IQ and medical illness interlink with each other and give sympathy towards him is in the scene in the shed. Because of Derek’s low IQ, we can not ignore that Derek broke into the shed, however we can overlook it as he is not aware of how serious his actions are and is easily influenced by his friends. The viewers feel it is not Derek’s fault as he is not aware of what he is doing. When Derek gets caught he has an epileptic fit.
This makes the viewer forget about what he has done as he looks to be in some pain , therefore the audience sympathise with him. I believe that Derek’s death was unfair and unjustified. Derek did not commit a murder and therefore should not have been charged with murder. I think that because it was a police officer that was murdered someone had to pay the price, and Derek being as unlucky as he is, was the one to be punished. I think that this film can change the perspective of people’s view on capital punishment as this film shows that innocent people can be wrongly executed.