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,
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
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.