Let Him Have It is Peter Medak’s vividly dramatized account of the infamous and still controversial 1952 Craig-Bentley case focused, to powerful dramatic effect, on Derek Bentley and his family, rather than simply adopting a documentary approach to their complex, multilayered narrative. The resulting film successfully captures the feel of suburban post-war Britain, with a disaffected younger generation searching for thrills.
In 1948, seven years after being rescued from the rubble during the Blitz, Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) suffers a fit when he and two friends are caught vandalizing a shed. Diagnosed epileptic with a mental age of 11, he is released from approved school at eighteen to the care of his indifferent parents (Tom Courtenay and Eileen Atkins) He meets 16-year-old Chris Craig (Paul Reynolds) who introduces Bentley to the criminal milieu in which his older brother Mark McGann operates, and at school Craig starts to swap guns and ammunition left over from the war.
On November 2 1952, Craig and Bentley were spotted on a Croydon factory roof and swiftly surrounded by armed police. In the ensuing gun battle, Craig shot a policeman dead and wounded another before diving off the roof, badly injuring himself. In court the prosecution alleged that Bentley – who shouted the words “Let him have it, Chris”, to Craig – was also guilty of murder. The defence maintained that Bentley was telling Craig to hand over his weapon.
Both were found guilty with the jury recommending mercy in the case of the mentally retarded 19-year-old Bentley. In spite of this, he was sentenced to hang while 16-year-old Craig, too young to be hanged, was detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. In spite of public opinion, the Home Secretary refused a reprieve and Bentley was hanged. Craig left prison in 1964, after serving ten years, while Bentley’s sister Iris continued to try to clear her brother’s name. He was pardoned in 1998. Iris Bentley had died a year before. Medak, who directed The Krays and Romeo Is Bleeding tells his painfully emotive story with highly effective restraint, allowing the events themselves and the extraordinary central performances to reinforce the justifiable anger evident in both screenplay and narrative without ever resorting either to bathos or out-and-out melodrama.
UK / 1991
Director: Peter Medak
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Cast: Chris Eccleston, Paul Reynolds, Tom Courtenay, Tom Bell, Eileen Atkins