This is a story that follows the life of an epileptic boy called Derek Bentley. The story shows how quickly a normal boy’s life can turn upside down. Derek arrives home from an approved school and doesn’t step out of his doorstep for a whole year. Derek is later led by Christopher Craig and his make-believe gangsters to go around and cause trouble. This later results in crime and Bentley is given the death penalty in court for
‘apparently’ being party to a murder but it was a huge injustice. After the trial Peter Medak, the producer tries to make the audience feel sympathetic towards
Derek and his life in prison and his family waiting for his execution. Derek’s sister Iris still battles on for justice and recently Bentley was pardoned. As the film is based on a true story, Medak might have been affected by the injustice and one day maybe thought to make this film in Derek’s name. Derek’s childhood is the most sympathetic part of the film,
this is because it shows how he struggled with the trauma of having epilepsy throughout his life. In 1941 Derek’s home is bombed and he is buried in the rubble from the the explosion he begins to throw a fit. Derek is not a leader he is led by others. Medak shows his lack of leadership skills in the part where Derek follows his friends to vandalise a hut. Medak also expresses Derek’s lack of confidence by showing his friends running away from being caught and Derek being the only one left standing there. Another example of his vulnerability is when he has a fit when he is caught in the hut scene. The Head teacher at the reform school says that Derek is not suitable to be there and that he is easily led by other pupils. The head also mentions that Derek’s convulsions have been getting worse and advises him to leave early because of his vulnerability. When we see Derek at the top of the stairs listening to his Dad and the Head it portrays his lonely side and makes him seem more childish which provokes sympathy amongst the audience.
Section 2 of the film refers in detail to Derek’s lack of independence. The part when Craig persuades Bentley to climb on the roofs shows the audience that he can’t really make up his own mind, he can’t say no when under pressure from
his peers. Medak tries to show Bentley as the complete opposite of Craig. When Craig is shooting, Medak makes it known that Derek played no part in the murder by placing them both on opposite sides of the roof. Craig was on one side and Bentley was on the other side with the police not resisting arrest. I think Medak
tries to make Derek seem like a child and seem like he didn’t know what he was really doing. Evidence for this is when he chases Craig around the rooftop as a game, anyone who was serious about what they were doing there wouldn’t have
been playing games. It is clear that Bentley hasn’t got the mind of a hardened criminal when he says ‘My Dads going to kill me’.
Even though Bentley is older than Craig, Medak makes Craig the leader of the two and makes Craig seem like he knows what he is doing more than Bentley does. Craig is presented as a wannabe gangster from Chicago. We can tell because throughout the film he puts on the accent of a gangtser and when he is shooting he is actually acting like one of them. Medak presents Craig as a wild character so that the audience can easily notice the contrast between him and Bentley When Derek realises he has still got the stolen butcher’s keys he throws them off the roof and says ‘if they catch me with these’.
When Bentley is being questioned in court he panics and can’t really answer properly because of his mental state. Medak purposely does this to to show the audience that Bentley isn’t mature enough to even appear in court. Medak makes it seem as if Bentleys’ being interrogated by making the camera track across the courtroom to show everyone staring at him, this makes us feel sorry for Bentley. Medak shows the controversy that the phrase ‘Let him have it,Chris’ caused when in Bentley’s defence that it could have meant anything. The camera doing close ups in this scene show how vulnerable he is when being questioned. Medak shows the Judge being personally against Derek for example when he explains to the audience and jury about the knuckleduster and how deadly it was.
This is the most emotionally powerful part of the film because it’s the part which involves Derek’s indecent death. When Derek’s family go to see him he is in a happy mood as he thinks that they are just trying to scare him with the death
sentence, to warn other criminals not to do what Craig and Bentley did. Medak also tries to make the audience think that there could be hope, but as you continue to watch the audience realises there is no hope. So their sense of injustice and sympathy is at it’s strongest. Derek’s Dad still thinks there is hope, it’s ironic because we find out that there is really no hope at all. A very evocative part is when the camera slowly zooms in on Derek’s face and he says to Iris, ‘ Will it hurt
…being hanged’. Iris can’t say anything and she tries not to cry. I think the most poignant part is when the Warden writes a letter to Derek’s family. I think this is because it is his last night and he is trying to keep his head up which makes the
audience sad. Derek has everyone supporting him, even a crowd outside the prison with banners protesting because they knew he wasn’t guilty.
There is unrest in the crowd when the public executioner arrives because they realised that the execution was going to go ahead. The emotional build up starts when there is a petition that has been signed by one hundred thousand people.
The sympathy continues to build up until Derek’s death. Medak’s best camera work is just after the execution, the camera closes down on the house from the sky, goes through the roof in to Derek’s room through the house to the frontroom.
The camera then reveals Derek’s family hugging each other and crying. When the clock stops chiming for nine o’clock it creates a bigger impact on the audience because the sound of the clock ends just after nine and so did Derek’s life.
When Mr Bentley and his family try to say their final goodbyes to Derek this is very poignant because the wired glass prevents them from doing so. When the film ends I think the music is perfect because it’s dull and sad, the black screen
with white writing also suits the mood because someone has just died.
I think the reason for making the film is because Medak doesn’t agree with injustice so he wanted to make a point. He also wanted to show the real Derek Bentley and give him the chance that he never had to show the kind of person
that he really was. The film creates a sympathetic view of a situation that was
beyond Derek Bentley’s control that ended in such a tragic and unfair way.