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Let Him Have It (1991, Chris Eccleston, Paul Reynolds)

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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.

production details
UK | 115 minutes | 1991

Director: Peter Medak
Script: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade,

cast
Steve Nicolson as PC Harrison
Edward Hardwicke as Approved School Principal
Iain Cuthbertson as Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe
Bill Dean as Foreman of the Jury
Robert Morgan as PC Miles
Jack Deam as Terry Stringer
Vernon Dobtcheff as Clerk of Court
Ronald Fraser as Niven’s Judge
Eileen Atkins as Lilian Bentley
Michael Gough as Lord Goddard
James Villiers as Cassels
Christopher Eccleston as Derek Bentley
Paul Reynolds as Christopher Craig
Tom Courtenay as William Bentley
Tom Bell as Fairfax
Clive Revill as Pierrepoint
Serena Scott Thomas as Stella
Clare Holman as Iris Bentley
Mark McGann as Niven Craig
Bert Tyler-Moore as Vincent Montgomery
Linda Bassett as Mrs. Miles
Karl Johnson as Parris
Charlie Creed-Miles as Second Boy in School
Walter Sparrow as Nightwatchman
Murray Melvin as Secondary School Teacher
Peter Jonfield as Butcher
Rudolph Walker as West Indian Driver
Peter Eyre as Humphries
Francis Hope as Big Cecil
Norman Rossington as Postman
Terence Skelton as MP
Denny Kirk as Mr Craig
Lottie Ward as Mrs Craig
Niven Boyd as PC McDonald
Michael Elphick as Prison Officer Jack
Jeremy Sinden as Soames, Daily Telegraph
Gary Everett as Reporter
Geoffrey Drew as Prison Chaplain
Viv Warentz as Petition Woman
James Bowers as Police Officer
Joan Heal as Woman in Butcher’s Shop

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