A Movie A Day #44: Let Him Have It (1991, directed by Peter Medak)


The year is 1953.  The place is Croydon.  Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) is 19 years old but has the mental capability of an 11 year-old.  Unable to hold down a job and judged unfit for the national service, Derek drifts into a gang led by 16 year-old Christopher Craig (Paul Reynolds).  When Derek and Craig are caught burglarizing a warehouse, it leads to a tense rooftop confrontation between Craig and the police.  Derek has already been captured by the time that the police demand that Craig hand over his gun.  Bentley shouts, “Let him have it, Chris!”  Craig opens fire, killing one officer.

Because he’s a minor, Craig is only facing a prison sentence for killing the police officer.  But, as a legal (if not mental) adult, Derek will be hung if he’s found guilty.  Under the common purpose doctrine, it doesn’t matter that Derek didn’t actually shoot the gun.  The only thing that matters is what Derek meant when he said, “Let him have it, Chris!”  Derek says that he was telling Craig to hand over his gun.  The Crown says that Derek was ordering Craig to open fire.

Let Him Have It is based on a true story.  The case of Derek Bentley was one of the many cases that eventually led to the death penalty being abolished in the UK.  Let Him Have It was released at the height of a long campaign to secure a pardon for Derek.  That pardon was finally issued in 1998, though it was too late to help Derek Bentley.

Let Him Have It is a powerful and angry docudrama, one that reveals in searing detail how Derek was railroaded by the British legal system.  In his film debut, Eccleston gives a powerful performance as Derek and he is ably supported by both Paul Reynolds and, in the role of Derek’s father, Tom Courtenay.  Let Him Have It leaves little doubt as to why the case of Derek Bentley remained a cause célèbre for 45 years after his initial trial.

A Movie A Day #28: Scandal (1989, directed by Michael Caton-Jones)


scandal-posterLondon.  1961.  Doctor Stephen Ward (played by John Hurt) is an artist and an osteopath.  He counts among his patients some of the most distinguished men and women in British society, including the Minister of War, John Profumo (Ian McKellen).  After meeting two young dancers, Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley) and Mandy Rice-Davies (Bridget Fonda), Stephen becomes their mentor, the Henry Higgins to their Eliza Doolittle.

Under Stephen’s watchful eye, both Christine and Mandy are soon having affairs with some  of the most powerful members of Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.  Christine becomes the mistress of both Profumo and KGB agent, Yevgeny Ivanov (Jeroen Krabbe), along with maintaining off-and-on relationships with drug dealer Johnny Edgecombe (played by singer Roland Gift) and musician Lucky Gordon (Leon Herbert).

When a disagreement leads to Johnny slashing Lucky’s face and then getting arrested for firing a gun at Stephen’s flat, the public learns the details of Christine’s affair with Profumo.  With the scandal rocking the British government, Stephen is a convenient scapegoat and soon finds himself on trial, charged with making a living off of “immoral earnings.”

Based on the real life scandal that led to the eventual fall of Harold Macmillan’s government, Scandal is remarkably faithful to the facts of the Profumo Affair, even if it did leave out some of the more interesting allegations.  (For instance, no mention is made of an alleged encounter between Mandy Rice-Davies and President Kennedy.)  Though it may seem tame by today’s standards, when Scandal was first released in 1989, it was considered to be something of a scandal itself and it initially got an X rating when it was released in the United States.  (The scandal over Scandal is one of the things that led to the MPAA adopting the NC-17 rating to distinguish between films for adults and “adult” films.  Of course, it didn’t work as a potential NC-17 still carries the same stigma as the X rating did.)

scandal

Scandal holds up well as both a recreation of London on the verge of the sexual revolution and a look at contrast between private and public mores.  Both Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda are excellent in the roles of Christine and Mandy.  Fonda gets to deliver the most famous line of the whole Profumo Affair when Mandy is told that Lord Astor has denied having had an affair with her.  “He would, wouldn’t he?” she says.  After I watched Scandal last night, I did some checking and I discovered that Bridget Fonda has not made a film since 2002.  She is missed.

Not surprisingly, Scandal‘s best performance comes from John Hurt, who plays Stephen Ward as a naive and well-meaning social butterfly who ultimately gets in over his head and pays a steep price for trusting that his friends would remain his friends.  Scandal is just one of many movies that proves what a great talent was lost when the world lost John Hurt.

RIP.

SCANDAL, John Hurt, 1989