'Let Him Have It' - I. Bentley 'Let Him Have Justice'

Iris Bentley "Let Him Have Justice"
Extracts from the book about Derek Bentley, concerning the making of the film 'Let Him Have It' w/ Christopher Eccleston.

Later Chris [Eccleston] told me the way the film turned out, he wished he'd turned it down. But he was young, only twenty-five, and no way could he pass up starring in a big Hollywood film. And that was the trouble, according to Chris. With Alex Cox [initially appointed director] the film would have been a serious look at Derek's case, with Peter Medak it was Hollywood. But Chris is a wonderful actor. He took it so seriously. In the film he has to show Derek having a fit. He found out about the Lingfield Hospital School in Surrey which is a school for epileptics with learning difficulties. [...] For a whole month he went again and again to Lingfield and he said that Derek's epilepsy was the key to everything that happened that night. [...]

To me Chris became more than an actor playing a part. He and I spent so much time together. I felt close to him, like a brother. He wasn't Derek, no one could be. But there was a bond. [...]

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After spending all that time at Lingfield he [Eccleston] said that Derek's epilepsy and the drugs would have made him moody. But Peter Medak would have none of it. He told Chris that if he showed the ugly side of Derek's epilepsy, the audience would loose sympathy for him. But as Chris said, if the film didn't show the truth, it would be failing Derek and those other people who are struggling with their illness. It led to terrible fights. Although I wasn't there on that day, a whole day's shooting was cancelled. It was in the condemned cell, when Chris refused to do the scene like Peter Medak wanted. Chris said he owed his loyalty to Derek not to Peter Medak.
'If you're borrowing the drama of epilepsy you have to show the reality. But Hollywood doesn't like ugliness.'

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Chris Eccleston wasn't like Paul [Reynolds]. He was the quiet one and we spent a lot of time together. I lent him Derek's lighter and watch. He was so grateful. He said they 'sparked his imagination'.

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Whatever I might feel about the film, Chris Eccleston as Derek is just wonderful. All that he felt for Derek and those epileptics he got to know at Lingfield comes shining through. He might say he's sorry he did the film. But I'm not. Chris's performance is what makes it for me. No one can take that away from him.

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Remembering a Life Cut Short by Gross Injustice

Nick Thorpe. The Scotsman, January 29, 1999

Exactly 46 years after the travesty of Derek Bentley's execution, British justice yesterday finally seemed to bow its head in contrition for one of its youngest victims.

Politicians, actors and activists knelt with family members at London's Southwark Cathedral to remember and regret the hanging of the 19-year-old, and to celebrate his short life.

The timing was for once exemplary, just 24 hours after the Home Secretary, Jack Straw signed the 6th protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights in Strasbourg, formally abolishing the death penalty in British law. Yet it all came too late for Iris, the devoted sister who campaigned all her life to clear her brother's name, but who died only months before his murder conviction was quashed last summer. Bentley's niece only just managed to hold back her tears as she read a Bible passage her uncle would have understood only too well - the betrayal of Jesus by a lawmaker who denied there was any such thing as truth. It was a poignant parallel for Maria Dingwall-Bentley.

Her uncle's memory was marred throughout her life by his conviction for murdering a south London policeman, Sidney Miles, in a rooftop confrontation during a break-in in 1952. Bentley had a mental age of 11 and did not even wield the murder weapon, yet was sent to the gallows for supposedly inciting his 16-year-old accomplice, Christopher Craig, to fire the fatal shot. Bentley's brother, Dennis, 56, appeared moved by the long-awaited restoration of justice. "I can imagine my mother and father and my sister being very proud if they could be here today to see this," he said afterwards.

Ms Dingwall-Bentley was more ambivalent after a number of Government ministers scheduled to attend the service failed to turn up. But the situation was partly retrieved by the knowledge that Mr Straw had now sealed Britain's opposition to the death penalty. The move means that future governments will be unable to reopen the debate on hanging without denouncing the protocol and amending the Human Rights Act, which is now enshrined by British law.

Another visitor moved by the service was Christopher Eccleston, who played Derek Bentley in the 1991 film, Let Him Have It. The title comes from the words "let him have it, Chris," allegedly uttered by Bentley just before the fatal shot was fired. It has never been clear whether Bentley meant that Craig should hand over the gun to the policeman, or if he uttered the words at all. Tom Courtney, who played Bentley's father in the film, also attended the service.

Ms Dingwall-Bentley pledged to continue to campaign for human rights around the world, but it was clear that the family's own campaign was over. She said: "Hopefully after today we can draw a line under all this and move on."