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KS4 RE: To Encourage the Others (1972)

What does Christianity have to say about capital punishment?

Main image of KS4 RE: To Encourage the Others (1972)
AuthorPoppy Simpson, BFI
TopicCapital Punishment
Show full lesson spec

To Encourage the Others (1972) combines dramatic reconstruction with direct documentary style to detail the miscarriage of justice that led to the execution of Derek Bentley in January 1953. Bentley was granted a full posthumous pardon in 1998.

To Encourage the Others (1972), centres around the trial of 16-year-old Christopher Craig and his 19-year-old friend Derek Bentley. During a confrontation on a Croydon rooftop, Craig shot and killed PC Sidney Miles. Bentley, meanwhile, had already been arrested. He was unarmed and cooperated with the police throughout the incident. Nevertheless, when the two were found guilty of murder, Craig was too young to hang and despite widespread protests, Bentley was sent to the gallows. This drama focuses on the trial of the two boys and can be used to look at the judicial process as well as the issue of capital punishment.

This lesson idea uses the story of Bentley and Craig, as shown in the three clips, as the basis for exploring Christian beliefs about capital punishment and comparing them to those of other religions.

Lesson Objective

  • To explore Christian beliefs about punishment, justice and capital punishment
  • To think about the way complex moral and ethical issues are dealt with in moving images


Without introducing the film or the story behind it, play the clip Bentley must hang. Pupils may be able to decipher what Bentley says just before he dies - 'I didn't tell him. I never told him to shoot that policeman'. But even if they don't hear these words, use the clip to discuss students' initial reactions - what do they think about capital punishment? Is it ever justified? Do they know when it was abolished in the UK? What kinds of crimes led to the penalty of capital punishment in the UK (and what crimes lead to it in the US today)?


Main Attraction

Brainstorm: What is Christianity's attitude towards capital punishment? Challenge students to discuss the differences between the Old and New Testament (eg. Leviticus chapter 24, v19-20: 'an eye for an eye'; Romans chapter 12 v19-21: ''never avenge yourself') as well as the Christian belief in the sanctity of life. They could also be made aware that the Catholic Catechism (1997) supports the death penalty as a last resort.

Now play students the clip Come and get it in which the filmmaker reconstructs the events leading up to Craig's arrest for the murder of PC Sidney Miles. The action might seem a little confusing, but it should be clear that the person who shoots the policeman is NOT the person who was executed in the clip first showed to the class. Bentley is in police custody throughout the shooting. Draw out students' responses: Why does it seem surprising that Bentley was hanged? How does he behave during the clip? What is his reaction to the death of the policeman?

Explain that the filmmaker started with the reconstruction, as the exact events of the shoot-out became crucial to the murder trial in determining Bentley's complicity in the crime and whether the murder was premeditated. Ask students to discuss in pairs what they think would be a suitable punishment for the crime committed and what a Christian's belief about the appropriate punishment might be. This can lead to a more detailed exploration of Christianity's approach to punishment in general. What is the purpose of punishment according to the Bible and how is punishment related to Christian concepts of justice?

Having collected the class's ideas on the board, watch the final clip Is that your story?. What does the tone of the trial imply about the purpose of punishing Craig/Bentley? What appears to be the main concern of the Establishment (ie. Judge, prosecutor ) in putting Craig/Bentley on trial and determining their punishment - reform/retribution/deterrence/restitution? What is the significance of the title of the film in this context? This should provide a way into discussing the differences between Christian, legal and individual concepts of justice. Are lawmakers and lawyers motivated by the same factors as Christians when they legislate against crimes and participate in trials? What about the Jury? Could their legal duty conflict with their moral or religious beliefs? How do students think a Christian sitting on the jury at Bentley's trial might have voted?

This activity might be rounded up by a comparison with another religion's approach to capital punishment.


End Credits

It is clear from all of the clips that the filmmakers believe that both Craig and Bentley were the victims of a miscarriage of justice. How useful and how influential do students think moving images (both film and television) are in terms of exploring complex moral and ethical issues?

Do students think documentary is best placed to explore such issues? What about fictional films or television - what kind of role can they play in influencing people's opinions?


External Links

Video Clips
1. Come and get it (4:20)
2. Is that your story? (6:26)
3. Bentley must hang (2:03)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of To Encourage the Others (1972)To Encourage the Others (1972)

Read more about this programme

See also

Thumbnail image of KS4 RE: TB - 'Fundamentalism' v 'Evolution' (1925)KS4 RE: TB - 'Fundamentalism' v 'Evolution' (1925)

Explore the theory of evolution and Christian beliefs.