As this film is simply based on a true story, the director, Peter Medak, can make a choice and then decide which parts of the original story can be used and expanded on to create a particular effect. In contrast to this, he can also choose which information is not needed and furthermore left out deliberately. I will aim to explore the different parts of Bentley’s life and the way in which Mendak manipulates the audience to sympathise with Bentley as the film evolves and progresses. The first scene presented is set during a World War II air raid.
The camera travels around capturing scenes of pain and suffering until it rests over a pile of rubble from under which Derek Bentley is discovered. When the rubble is removed, the face of a small, white-faced boy is revealed. The first impact that strikes the audience that a small, innocent child is in pain.
A further reason is that this is an event that is out of Derek Bentley’s control therefore generating a feeling of vulnerability towards Bentley and also of blamelessness; that he is being targeted for something that is not his fault nor something he can control. The second scene presented is the vandalism of the shed which consists of Bentley and two associates taking part in the damage of an elderly man’s shed. However, Bentley does not appear to be taking part in the defacement but rather he is left to the background. Sympathy is created here as Derek seems to have been led along by these to boys due to his lack of mental capability.
This is shown when one of the boys pours tea over some sandwiches. Derek reaches to eat one of these sandwiches except his associate stops him as he does not know he shouldn’t do this. Sympathy is created here as Bentley is shown not to have the same mental aptitude as his peers. Nonetheless this is not his fault again as he did not get to choose whether he was to be smart. It is once more beyond his or anyone else’s control. Another occasion when Derek’s mental shortcomings are shown is when the three boys get caught. The other two manage to get away but Bentley doesn’t. His subnormal wit doesn’t allow him to think quick enough to escape.
This is again out of his control and he is caught for something he didn’t do, thus, a sense of injustice towards Derek. An additional event that creates sympathy is the event of his epileptic fit. Yet again, this is out of his control. A more simple reason how sympathy is created is the sight of someone in pain. The next excerpt of Derek’s life is at the approved school. One way that Medak creates sympathy for Derek in this scene is by making the headmaster say disparaging things about him in front of Mr Bentley, Derek’s father. The head comments that Derek is of “low intelligence” and that he “gets into trouble”.
This creates sympathy as there seems to be no place in society that accommodates Derek and other people with specific needs such as limited intelligence. This shows that the system in Britain has failed him. Also Mr Bentley comments that the judge asked Derek to spell ‘fluorescent’ and he claimed that that was the reason why Derek was sent to the approved school. The judge does not answer. I think this is done for the purpose of creating sympathy because it shows that Mr Bentley should admit that his son is mentally disabled and it is not because of this single event in court. Again this is out of Mr Bentley’s or the headmaster’s control.
As Bentley is has been asked to leave the approved school, the film picks up his life one year later. Derek’s sister, Iris, brings him comics. Two ways in which sympathy is created here are, firstly, that Iris goes out and buys items for a 19 year-old, who should by now have got a job and even possibly moved out. The audience may consider this as pathetic but there will be a degree of sympathy for Derek. The next method by which sympathy is produced is that a nearly fully grown man is reading comics. This shows his limited intelligence by the fact he reads things that are very simple and which have lots of pictures.
Bentley seems to be spending most of his time in his room and in the house. This is shown when Iris says that his old friends asked if he was dead. There is a level of sympathy here as he must have been a recluse for some time for his friends to think this. This scene in Derek’s bedroom shows that he does not lead the life of a normal 19 year-old as he has no job, no money, no friends and he seems to be spending the majority of his time in his room, smoking profusely with only his pets for company. The only pastime of Derek’s appears to be his radios in his garden shed.
We see him in his shed meddling with various knobs and buttons until finally he picks up a signal and a fashionable pop song comes on the radio. As the song progresses, he begins to try and dance, however he is unsuccessful with a feeble attempt. This prompts Iris to help him dance. When they are dancing in his room, Derek suddenly stops and complains he can’t remember the words. Here again his mental capabilities stop him from taking part in simple activities and again it is not his fault. The episode about the record prompts a new beginning for Derek as this is the pivotal point when Iris suggests that he should buy the record.
The glimpse we see of Derek is when he is just about to walk out of the door. The camera only focuses on his face which shows a lost and isolated look. Sympathy is shown by the look on his face as he is obviously nervous about going out into public for the first time in many years. Bentley’s body language also creates sympathy for himself as the head down, hands in pockets stance he sports suggests that he is paranoid about what people think of him, when as a matter of fact nobody really cares and they just get on with their everyday business.
The purpose of Derek’s visit into town is to buy the record. Iris leaves him to go into the record shop on his own but stands and waits. Suddenly Derek realises that he can’t read and therefore he panics and makes for the exit. Sympathy is created by showing that even though Derek has new found confidence, he is still out of his depth. Derek’s involvement with Christopher Craig is ultimately his downfall and in the early stages of their ‘friendship’ Derek appears slightly uncomfortable. To start with, when Craig is first seen in the story, he comes across as a predator.
He appears to be waiting for Derek and when Derek walks past on the way to the shops with vulnerable body language, his face lights up with a menacing sneer as if he has seen a victim in the form of Derek Bentley. The next time Derek meets Craig, with some meaning, is in the butchers. Craig purposely follows Derek into the butchers. After Derek has bought his meat, the butcher asks for his ration booklet but Derek can’t read which token it is. Craig offers to help but ‘accidentally gives him the wrong token.
Sympathy is shown up as Derek is shown up in a shop full of people because of Craig’s ‘mistake’. All through the first 25 minutes of the film, Medak piles unfortunate event upon unfortunate event onto Derek Bentley. As Derek gains more confidence, this ironically introduces him into more trouble and makes it seem as though staying at home as a recluse was a good thing for Derek. Eventually Derek meets his death because he was trying to be a normal person; a mis-carriage of justice, the ultimate sympathetic event.