Let Him Have It

Let Him Have It

****

Reviewed by: James Benefield

The Second World War has been over for a while, but rationing is still in place in the UK. Much of London is wrecked. And, despite all the pomp, circumstance and the roles of Churchill and the Battle of Britain, America is starting to emerge as the real victor of the war. The US's increasing economic power means Britain's youth are inclining toward its pecuniary glow.

The backdrop is set for Let Him Have It – a true story featuring a souring of youthful naivety and ambition. As their older brothers were out firing guns and killing Germans, these boys were watching gangster movies at the pictures. They buy and trade replica guns, inspired by Al Capone and his like. Underscoring this is a lack of knowledge, experience, commonsense and a sense of real context.

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And this generation is about to claim its first victim. We follow Christopher Ecclestone's Derek Bentley – a reclusive 19-year-old, who is crippled with acute social awkwardness, illiteracy and a mental age of 11. A bungled robbery culminates in a stand off with the police, leaving Derek shouting to his gun-wielding friend: "Let him have it!" His friend then shoots his antagoniser dead. But did Derek want the guy to be killed? Or did he want his friend to hand over the gun? Either way, Bentley was sentenced to death. His friend escaped with a 10-year sentence, due to his young age.

This is a sad, sobering viewing experience, in which the audience is given only a little leeway to decide what Derek meant by his choice of words. But whether or not he was innocent of the crime, he was an innocent and a victim of circumstance. Within 20 years, the death penalty would be abolished. Derek's case was there to be made a, you know, example of. In some ways, he was a scapegoat. There was a lot of anger about in 1952; bitter emotional remnants were left from the war. To its credit, the film openly engages in paradox, asking whether Britain really needed to lose another innocent young man.

Christopher Ecclestone has rarely been better as Bentley. He's a man with childlike optimism and an unwavering conviction that states, even after his death, justice will prevail. Justice did prevail, but not until 1998. Tom Courtenay and Eileen Atkins play his parents and are every bit as good.

Combined with its sparing use of music and a slow, understated pace, it's hard to see how Let Him Have It could have been a more respectful tribute to Derek Bentley.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2010
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True story of Derek Bentley, sentenced to death for a bungled robbery.
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