Thought Control - #2 - Let Him Have It

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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.'

(From Iris Bentley's book Let Him Have Justice, read relevant extracts here on the blog)

Let Him Have It
Vivid Entertainment movie, premièred at Toronto Film Festival in 1991; written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, directed by Peter Medak.

Christopher Eccleston plays Derek Bentley (30 Jun 1933 - 28 Jan 1953), mentally disabled youth, convicted and hanged for a murder he didn't commit. He was fully pardoned first in 1998 (read an article).

The production originally started with Alex Cox at the helm. Cox cast Eccleston (as Bentley) and Paul Reynolds (as Craig) with the intent of making a truthful film, in b/w. I. Bentley: "But it turned out his ideas were a bit too revolutionary and before long he fell out with the producers." Cox was replaced by Medak, film took on a different direction and both Eccleston and Reynolds had to re-audition.

Initially satisfied with film's message (it did bring the case back to light), Eccleston soon discovered changes that had been introduced, and how the reality was glossed over. He spent a month visiting Lingfield Hospital School in Surrey, where he found out about the specifics of epilepsy and learning disability Derek suffered from. He was further encouraged by Derek's sister, Iris Bentley, who was supposed to be a consultant for the film, but was rarely listened to. In her frank and poignant book she lists various discrepancies, from trivial to fundamental ones.

Still, this is a feature film, not a documentary, and in theory, the director's - audacious or not, artistic or market guided - vision. A restless actor - is it a hindrance or a gift for a production?

derek from let him have it derek from let him have it derek from let him have it



Tarot said...

I'd say it's a gift. I think it can only help a project when you have an actor who's that dedicated.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Well obviously dedication to the subject matter counts, but imagine you're a director in the middle of the project - in the middle of lensing - and you're _sure_ what you want to show and how?

Tarot said...

While this wasn't a documentary it is still a biopic and it was based on recent history. Surely any good director should take that in to account.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

And director took it into account and made decisions - not the perfect ones, maybe, but ones to suit his vision and understanding of problematic?

joanr16 said...

Hmm. I don't get the sense, reading the link to Iris Bentley's extracts, that Eccleston battled Medak out of restlessness. I see his motivations as passion and naivete.

If there's a clear right-and-wrong in some of these filmmaking situations, surely it depends on the specific circumstances. There are clashes of ego and worldview, experience and dysfunction. Sometimes I think it's miraculous that good films get made at all; the process is storytelling-by-committee, as with theatre, except usually there's a lot more money invested, which brings its own political baggage. So I can see both sides... depending on many variables. Ideally, the actor and director trust and listen to one another, whether or not they've collaborated before. I imagine that's the exception rather than the rule.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Hiya Joan.
It's just a figure of speech, restless, I meant, to borrow an expression, he doesn't lie down easily, and that he seeks answers, instead of going sheep-like ahead.

I see his motivations as passion and naivete.
A bout of idealism?

As for filmmaking situations, it also depends a lot on director's style. Some are happy to let the actor choose, some want their plan followed letter by letter, some will explain everything to everyone from a to z, some will withhold all info bar that which is being used in the current scene.

joanr16 said...

I imagine an actor's work is like anyone else's; you either learn to work with many different types of personalities or you don't, and when you don't, you may be less successful at your work. As for CE, I don't think he's lost his passion at all, but I suspect his perspective has broadened a bit with the experience of 20 years. He seems consistently to do good work even in less-than-ideal circumstances (fill in your own examples here).

I actually think Medak made a respectable film, and watching it I never get a sense of unhappiness on anyone's part. imo that speaks well for everyone involved. I do think the best directors heed their actors within reason; I believe that's true of almost any hierarchical working situation.

Here's what I wonder: would Cox's film have been of substantially better quality? Would it have reached as large an audience? I have somewhat limited knowledge of his work, so I can't really say. I'd love to hear what you all think.

chiclit said...

Well, I suspect early on in his career CE was passionate about his job-and everything related to those less fortunate or misunderstood (still is). His early interviews in particular, indicate he is well aware of where he comes from, how lucky he is. I think in the entertainment business sometimes to get stuff made, you have to compromise and can imagine that this might have put things at odds on the Let Him Have It set. CE didn't yet have the artistic clout at that point . Whatever happened, it certainly didn't seem to drastically affect his career.

I would guess in later years, however, CE's contributions are based on years in the business, working with a lot of terrific people giving him a great knowledge base about what works on television and what doesn't. Many really good and critically well regarded actors are considered "difficult" because they advocate for their characters, for the environment do good work etc. The truth is that the directors of actors in those cases often admit they are right. Going back to the Second Coming, CE asked to meet with RTD about one of Steve's speeches. In the commentary RTD admits he was scared, intimidated, but that CE's change was the correct one. I have actually started to wonder if whatever happened on Doctor Who was related to the fact that because of the corporate overlords DW was not the collaborative experience he had anticipated.

Now, I have given this way too much thought, but if the BBC really wants to get back to the day of the good television drama- and on the cheap, they could do worse than create a contest for new writers, let CE pick the best and then executive produce or host the presentations.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Joan: He seems consistently to do good work even in less-than-ideal circumstances (fill in your own examples here).

Especially recently, that's why I'm not crying buckets.

Joan: I actually think Medak made a respectable film, and watching it I never get a sense of unhappiness on anyone's part.

Chiclit: Whatever happened, it certainly didn't seem to drastically affect his career.

Both points true. IMO he did manage to smuggle some ugliness, and if the film works - which it does - because Eccleston dug in his heels, it's probably worth a conflict or two.
As for the career, I'm sure it was a good exercise, all things considered.

If Alex Cox had stayed with the film... Cox had two main flings with biographies:
Sid and Nancy (1986) and
Walker (1987)

First one is a murky tale about Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) - generally well regarded film without compromises.

The second one is about one William Walker (awesome Ed Harris), who "liberated" Nicaragua in 19th century, among other exploits, - and the film's mad as a bottle of chips, the best anti-war satire I've seen - and it looks like it could've been made yesterday. All points still stand. But the film was immediately forgotten - suppose because it hit right between the eyes, it did.

What would have happened with the first Eccleston film? I think it would still have been slightly subjective, but there wouldn't have been shown anything fictitious. Alex Cox visited Iris Bentley, and she, while finding him strange, was convinced as to his serious intentions.

Most importantly, IMO, with Cox as director Let Him Have It would also have been acknowledged as a film, and not just because of its message.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

If anyone reads this and wonders what's that about fiction, here's an example:

In reality, the Bentley family were not in the courtroom - they were sitting in the corridor, because they were misleadingly told they'd be called in to witness.

Now compare with the court scene in the film and tell there's no difference.