The film ‘Let Him Have It’, tells the real-life story of Derek Bentley. Derek is a nineteen year old epileptic who is caught breaking into a shed in his early youth. He is sent to approved school but is released early due to his epilepsy and his low IQ. It is later on discovered that Derek has the mental age of eleven, this plays a great part in the injustice later on. After his release he ends up being involved with a local youth, Christopher Craig, an American style gangster with a dangerous hobby. Derek follows Chris around, undertaking any activity which he does.
One of these includes a midnight robbery of a warehouse. This, however, turns drastically wrong when Chris ends up shooting two officers, fatally wounding one whilst injuring another. Both boys are found guilty of murder and Chris is imprisoned, leaving Derek to face the death penalty. Despite obvious bias and protests, the sentence is carried out. The story is so controversial for many reasons. One was being Derek’s mental age of eleven. Any eleven-year-old would not be allowed in court, let alone face the death penalty. There was also strong bias on behalf of the judge involved, pressuring the jury into their verdict.
It was also an unfair charge as Derek did not actually commit the murder. In this essay, I will discuss how Medak uses lots of close-ups for emphasis on Derek’s emotions; how he seems never to fit in and is alienated from his problems; different camera angles and lighting angles used to create emphasis; how Derek and Chris’ lives are contrasting and are made to look obvious; how innocence is used as a tool to make us associate it with Derek; the clothing Derek wears and the connotations of those styles of dressing and the issues of the story (justice and bias) and how these are shown during the film.
I will also focus into specific scenes which are appropriate to the question as they have many examples of Medak trying to gain the viewers sympathy for Derek. Medak uses frequent close-ups or extreme close-ups to make the bare emotion Derek is feeling come across more easily, and therefore is easier to sympathise with. He uses this method in many instances in which sympathy is being blatantly created for a purpose. . One such example is during the trial: Derek is being questioned by the barrister and the judge. Both are equally pummelling him with questions, making him feel incredibly pressured.
He breaks down in the box, and the camera zooms into an extreme close-up of his eyes. The eyes are said to be “the windows to the soul” and so drastic emphasis on them makes it easy for us to imagine the pain and upset he is feeling. The intensity of the shot also links with the intense stress he is feeling and due to that, we can empathise with Derek, and begin to understand the emotion he is feeling at that point. Derek is often seen throughout the film as not fitting in, and the focus on this by Medak is another technique used to create sympathy. He seemed not to fit in with Chris’ friends in many ways.
Firstly, the clothes he wore. He was always seen in a long, big tweed coat and other clothes that resemble that of his father’s style. This is shown during one scene in which Chris’ brother gives Derek a coat, of a more gangster style. However, it is still not the same as the others, as it is blue and not black, so he still sticks out. The fact that he cannot fit it or be accepted even when he tries, is a device used by Medak to make us feel sympathy for him, as we feel sorry for Derek that he does not fit, in yet is still being involved in the crime the gang undertake.
He does also not fit in with the group, as he prides his family and thinks highly of his father and sister, whereas the gangsters do not respect their parents. They are made to seem very incompatible by Medak so you judge them in different ways later on in the film, especially during the trial. This means we feel that Derek is not like Chris and would not have killed anyone, and therefore when he is convicted of murder, we feel sorry for him. A third device he uses is to use different camera angles and lighting for different effects.
The main effect of lighting is to suggest innocence and to make Derek look innocent. There are many examples of this, one being when Chris is giving Derek some stolen cigarettes; Derek is being illuminated, whereas Chris is left in the dark. Light is a symbol of innocence, and Derek being light-up against the criminal surroundings makes him seem innocent, as if he has done nothing wrong, which he has not. We feel sympathy for him as we realise he does not belong in the “underworld” and that it is unfair that he has become entangled in criminal activities which will lead him into trouble.
Different camera angles are also used to gain sympathy for Derek. The way in which the camera pans between Derek (upstairs), and his parents (downstairs) symbolises a boundary between Derek and his own situation, which is being discussed by his parents. The constant panning through the ceiling emphasises the gap between them. Derek is upstairs going against everything that has been decided. Emphasis on his face during a close-up is different to the views seen previously in the scene create more of an impression as to how upset and alienated he is feeling.
The different angles combine to create a larger picture about what is going on and how he is feeling. The way in which we can grasp his emotions lets viewers empathise with him and see the reasons behind his sadness. The idea of the boundaries also makes us sympathise with him as we feel sorry that he is being controlled. The way in which Medak portrays the two boys and their lives as being completely incongruous is another method used to gain the viewers sympathy. The two are completely different in the way they dress, the way they act, the people they usually are seen with and most importantly, the things they do.
One instance of this is during the scene in which Derek is given clothing to ‘fit in’. He is being made a mockery of by Chris’ friends as he is different to any of them and stands out. Another illustration of this point is when we first see Chris, who is following Derek on his street corner. Danger is associated with a street corner, and the way that Derek pays no attention to Chris is a sign that he is not interested in that type of person. They are quite obviously different as their clothing again symbolises the difference between them.
Both these things show how different the two are, meaning that when the two are convicted of the same things, sympathy is created as we feel sad that Derek is being made a scapegoat as he should not have been with them in the first place. We know they are going to get him in trouble, which also creates sympathy. Another way in which he does not seem to fit in is with his parents. They seem to alienate him from his own situations and do not consider him as anyone who is worth having opinions to be considered. One scene that shows this is when Derek is being let out of the Approved School, which he attended.
Medak has placed Derek outside of the room in which he is being discussed. Derek can hear that he is being talked about but is not being included. This way, we feel sympathy for him as he is having decisions made about him with no inclusion of the person it will mostly affect. There is also a paradox here, as he is not old enough to make decisions about his future and his life but he is still old enough to be hanged in the end. He is being made to look too young to make his own decisions, which creates sympathy as any other nineteen year old would be fully independent.
Yet Derek is fully dependant on his parents, like a young child would be. The clothing worn by Derek throughout the film is another technique used by Medak to create empathy for Derek. We first get a complete picture of his style when Derek and his Dad are walking away from the Approved School. Derek is dressed in a long, tweed coat, similar to that of his Dad. The coat is high necked, long and wide shouldered, which serves as Derek’s protection, his shell from the outside world. This shows he is a very nervous, very cautious person who would normally stay away from trouble.
This means that when he is caught-up in trouble, we feel sympathy towards him, as we know he is the type of person who would not normally be involved in it and that he should really be at home with his father, which is where he appears to belong. The way in which he mimics his father’s style shows how he has a very infantile mentality, which relates to his mental age, proving he should not have been in court in the first place. This is effective as it is like seeing a child in court, and we feel sympathetic towards Derek in the same was as you would a small child, who would be very scared and afraid.
Derek adopts an alternate style of clothing later on in the film when he is making a desperate attempt to fit in with the gang. He is given a light blue coat in a gangster style. However, he still does not fit in with the others around him as he is wearing a different colour. The lighter colour he is wearing connotes innocence against the darker clothes of the criminal gang. The way in which he stands out creates sympathy, as we feel sorry for him that he cannot fit in with them, even when he tries. As he has now changed his style from his paternally-inspired clothes and so does not fit in with his parents either.
This means he does not fit in, in the two places he should (with his friends and with his family). This is another device Medak has used to create sympathy. There are some scenes in the film, in which Medak uses a mixture of devices to create sympathy. These scenes are particularly interesting as they give the viewer a chance to create a better impression of him. This in turn creates sympathy as the scenes are particularly traumatic, and we can empathise with Derek being involved in such situations, no eleven year old should be put through. One of these scenes is the trial scene. Derek is being charged with the murder of P.
C. Miles. The scene opens with a view of Chris Craig who is sat, looking very different to Derek. He has a smug impression on his face, showing he has no respect for authority. It is obvious in the early scenes that Derek does and so we again feel the two should not have been involved together. After the injured police officer and Chris have been interviewed, it is Derek’s turn in the dock. He is immediately seen as uncomfortable in the situation. He is stammering badly as he tries to answer. This relates to the way in which a young child would act in the situation – this behaviour is seen throughout the scene.
They query Chris’s gun collection, of which Derek is unaware. They accuse him of knowing he was in possession of a gun on the night of the murder, which Derek denies truthfully. However, the judge and the barrister continue to pressure him to say otherwise. Derek’s head is bowed as he cannot seem to bear looking up and facing the problem in front of him. This conduct also resembles that of a youngster. As the barrister pummels Derek with questions, the camera flicks between the faces of the barrister, Derek and the judge. The effects of the intense camera shots mirror the intensity of Derek’s emotions.
This enables the viewer to get an idea of how Derek is feeling, making it easier to empathise with him. The judge is getting frustrated with Derek who is telling the truth. However, it is not what the judge wants to hear, as they want someone to blame for the death of a figure of authority, like him. Derek cannot comprehend why they are being so unjust towards him, therefore showing his juvenile mindset. The speed of the camera shots is buzzing like the thoughts in Derek’s head. Derek is now shaking violently as the judge interrogates him in a desperate hope that he will crack.
Derek has now reduced to having his chin on his chest, he is mentally imploding. The camera then changes to Derek’s point of view in which the room is spinning. It slows when his eyesight greets his family. This shows how important his family are to him. The camera angle then changes to zoom in on his eyes for an extreme close-up. Again, Medak is using the eyes like a window to the soul, because if the viewer can connect with Derek we feel more sympathetic. At this point the camera zooms out to a bird’s eye view of the court to show that Derek’s pain and frustration is now over.
In the closing minutes of the scene, the judge makes a statement. It is very biased, almost condemning Derek before the verdict is passed. At this point we feel a sense of anger that he is being branded a criminal, even when he is innocent. Another key scene in the film is the execution and the build-up to it. It is a time at which we see Derek’s juvenility and how ‘simple’ he really is. The first visit after his verdict is a very emotional time. Derek is first seen walking in. The camera pans up his body, starting at his feet.
Feet symbolise freedom, which, of course, he doesn’t have. He has a very calm expression; he seems not to be very upset. There is a glass barrier between them, which separates them mentally and physically. The family looks very miserable yet Derek believes them when they tell him it can be sorted out. This is another instance in which we can see his mental age. He asks about the wife of the dead police officer, which shows his caring nature. This makes it seem as if he should not be in jail. His dad talks about being able to change the verdict and Derek believes him.
However, the audience know he cannot and we feel for him as he is putting his life into his dad’s hands. His family are the only ones who realise what might happen to him; Derek’s naivety is demonstrated here. After this visit the next scenes are based on the support of the public and officials. After five days, there is a critical scene at home. Derek’s father is told by a newspaper reporter that the verdict will not be revoked, and the parents search for a letter. When they find it, the mother breaks down in tears. She is incredibly distressed as it all sinks in.
There is a sense of there being little hope left and we feel bad for Derek who is still clueless to what is going on. During the next visit to the prison we do not see Derek’s dad. In the conversation that follows, Derek actually acknowledges his possible death. He speaks his words in a very child-like manner, creating sympathy, as his innocence is obvious, yet he is being punished. He asks if it will hurt, but the family won’t answer it and so he puts his trust in his dad again to tell him. The dad is then seen a few days later sat in his study. There is music, which is slow and solemn.
He finds the stolen cigarettes given to him and he begins to cry. The moment is very poignant as this is the one time in which we see the strongest one cry as a symbol of there being very little hope left. The next visit is also the final. If begins with a close-up of Iris’ eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul and this close-up allows us to feel for Derek in the way his family does as it enables you to think like Iris is thinking. He talks about getting home, but there is silence in the room. The camera pans from one face to another for emphasis on the pain and upset they are feeling.
Then the final goodbyes begin. Derek does not get upset until his mum has to leave. He cries, mirroring his mother’s tears. The barrier between them acts as a mirror, which is showing how alike they are. This creates sympathy as we feel Derek should be with them and not about to die for a crime he did not commit with other people. There is high pitched music in the background, sounding like the screams of emotional anguish the family is feeling. The camera focuses on Derek’s face as he watches the family leave. He tries to make contact with his mother through the glass.
He is trying to break through the barrier to be back with his family where he belongs. They leave, in the knowledge that they make never see Derek again. The final and most emotional scene of the film is the execution scene and the build up to it. During this, the camera cuts between Derek and his family at home. The background music is slow, like the passing of time. It cuts to the cell where Derek is being given his last rites. The priest is illuminated and therefore innocence is implied. Derek is in the dark as if there is no hope left for him; he is now branded as a criminal.
This in itself creates sympathy as we know he is not, yet he has been successfully scapegoated and is now suffering for this. The camera returns to the lounge, a bird’s eye view. This way we can see and feel all the emotion of all the three people, which creates a greater impact. The camera cuts back and forth, each time the priest speaks a line. It associates the last words of Derek’s life with the family. It also creates a feeling of time and how it is dragging on in the minds of the family. People are seen outside singing “Abide With Me” which is a funeral hymn. It signifies it is really the end and that no more can be done to help.
The feeling of helplessness is felt in the audience as well and so it creates sympathy. The camera now begins to move through the house in a slow, smooth movement, like that of a ghost. The family clock begins to chime to signify Derek’s time of death. They all cuddle together and cry. We then see Derek being violently hand-cuffed. This makes him seem as if he is a real criminal who deserves to be treated in such an inhumane manner, which we know he is not. This creates sympathy as we know Derek to be like a child and we feel increased sympathy that he is being treated like that.
He is put in a bag, which echoes his deep breathing, a symbol of panic. He becomes faceless, another symbol of his life coming to an end. The movements are very fast, in contrast to the rest of the scene emphasising the power the Judicial System has. Derek is then hanged, the camera is only showing his feet – again, a symbol of the freedom he does not have. The camera zooms upwards into a bright light, meant to be viewed as heaven. The camera is then seen walking through the family house like a spirit. The music is very ghostly. The clock is still heard chiming, and the family are still crying.
The effect of the spiritual return home is to emphasise the end of his life and to make us feel very sympathetic towards the family. When Derek arrives home (spiritually), we feel sympathy that his spirit is now returning home to be greeted by his upset parents and even in death he has to see the pain he has caused his family. The film ends when the clock stops chiming, as well as the pendulum. This is a very poignant moment as it signifies the end of Derek’s time on Earth. As you can see, Medak has used many devices to gain the viewer’s sympathy for Derek.
He has used clothing, the way it shows his innocence and how it mirrors his dad’s style, therefore highlighting his juvenile mentality; how he has used close-ups and extreme close-ups to make it easier to realise what he is thinking and sympathise with that; how lighting is also used to symbolise his innocence, or the opposite (in this case, dark to show criminal activity); how he has shown Derek as not fitting in with anyone and being alienated from his situations and consequently feel sorry that he cannot fit in; how he blatantly compares Chris’ and Derek’s lives to make it obvious Derek should not have been involved with them in the first place as they are total opposites and so sympathy is felt when he gets into trouble, as he should not really have been involved with them. Also, how Medak mixes all the things mentioned above to generate scenes which combine to make scenes of great emotion which are easy to empathise with.
The opinion of Medak is quite obvious to thinking Bentley was innocent, and the way he uses Derek’s innocence versus the dark, gangster style of Chris makes this plain to see. The overall message of the film seems to be to prove Derek’s innocence. The sympathy generated during the film makes this point clear, as in every scene there is an instance in which Derek is shown to be just a simple child who wants a nice life with his parents. He is very biased in his opinions, and shows this during the court scene where the Judge and jury are biased against Derek despite the obvious innocence. The devices he uses are very effective, as it is very easy to identify with Derek and his family, so you can sympathise with the situation he is in. The film overall, I feel puts this point across well.