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To Encourage the Others (1972)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of To Encourage the Others (1972)
BBC, 28/3/1972
110 minutes, colour
DirectorAlan Clarke
ProducerMark Shivas
Script EditorMargaret Hare
ScriptDavid Yallop

Cast: Billy Hamon (Craig); Charles Bolton (Bentley); Roland Culver (Lord Goddard); Philip Stone (Humphreys); Wensley Pithey (Cassels); Arthur Lovegrove (Mr Bentley); Carmel McSharry (Mrs Bentley)

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In the murder trial which follows Christopher Craig's apparent killing of PC Sidney Miles, judicial failures result in Derek Bentley receiving the death penalty.

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In a play drawn from his non-fiction book of the same name, David Yallop combines dramatic reconstruction with direct documentary address to detail the miscarriage of justice which led to the hanging of Derek Bentley in 1953.

The tense opening film sequence shows 16-year-old Christopher Craig's shoot-out with police, during which PC Sidney Miles is shot dead. Craig's 19-year-old friend Derek Bentley is unarmed and placidly under arrest throughout. In court, however, both are found guilty of murder; Craig is too young to receive the death sentence but Bentley, despite widespread protests, is hanged. Yallop uncovers serious judicial failings, and denies that Bentley incited Craig, or that he ever said the famous phrase "let him have it, Chris".

Unlike Peter Medak's film on the same subject, "Let Him Have It" (1991), Yallop's play concentrates on the trial, using official transcripts. In the courtroom scenes, Alan Clarke's claustrophobic visual style is inventive, despite the technical and time restrictions of multi-camera studio recording. His style emphasises the crucial theme of vicarious activity: the jurors who are often framed in the foreground of shots of Craig and Bentley are just looking-on, like Bentley on the Croydon rooftop and the Establishment who oversee Bentley's judicial murder as a brutal warning to juvenile delinquents.

Following the verdict, the drama gives way to a documentary voice-over which details the failures of the legal process, including invented confessions, vital evidence which was never presented and a failure to provide for Bentley's mental deficiencies which restricted his ability to contribute to his own defence. Furthermore, Clarke's ambiguous framing of gunshots in the opening sequence hints that Miles was accidentally shot by another policeman, but this point from Yallop's book was cut from the play after a pathologist disapproved of Yallop's use of his testimony.

The Bentley family's doomed struggle for a reprieve is powerfully reconstructed, as are Bentley's last days in his death cell. Clarke then presents Bentley's hanging in a sequence which is graphic but also visually inventive, emphasising the impersonal judicial process through isolated shots of feet and the anonymous hands which carry out the act.

Yallop's book and play were welcomed by Bentley's family and provoked questions in Parliament, but, even after a 1991 repeat in a Clarke tribute season, seemed unsuccessful in clearing Bentley's name. In July 1998, however, Bentley was belatedly granted a full pardon.

Dave Rolinson

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Video Clips
1. Come and get it (4:20)
2. Is that your story? (6:26)
3. Bentley must hang (2:03)
Clarke, Alan (1935-1990)
Drama Documentary