Let Him Have It takes one of the most controversial murder trials in postwar Brit history and comes up with a powerful mix of social conscience and solid entertainment. Pic reconstructs the events leading to the 1952 rooftop shoot-out in south London between local cops and cocky, gun-crazy Chris Craig. At age 16, Craig was legally too young to be hanged so his 19-year-old partner, Derek Bentley, went to the gallows instead, despite public petitions and last-minute appeals.
Though innocent of any shooting, Bentley was heard to cry ‘Let him have it’ to the rod-wielding Craig. The defense argued the words meant hand over the gun rather than shoot. Craig, released in 1963 and living a reformed life, played no part in the present production, though the filmmakers tried to contact him.
Pic studiously avoids a docu approach. The dramatic focus begins and ends on a tragic figure of Bentley (Chris Eccleston), an epileptic with the mental age of an 11-year-old and a distant relationship with his working-class father (Tom Courtenay) and reticent mother (Eileen Atkins). After a spell in an approved school, he’s coaxed out of his shell by older sister (Clare Holman) and comes under the sway of swaggering Craig (Paul Reynolds) and Craig’s crooked brother (Mark McGann).
Script is sometimes overladen with exposition, especially in the family scenes and after-trial seg. But it succinctly captures the feel of suburban postwar Britain, and its younger characters’ search for thrills through Hollywood movies, flash cars and pop music. Peter Medak directs fluidly and with an eye for bigscreen values.