Derek Bentley was a troubled child; he was dropped at birth and later on in life several times. Derek also suffered from severe epilepsy and had a mental age of an eleven year old. In these circumstances one would be expected to offer professional medical help, in the case of Derek Bentley, he was hanged on the 28th of January for allegedly murdering PC Sidney Miles in 1952. There were several appeals to try and quash his convictions, most failed but finally in 1998 Derek Bentley was granted full pardon by Michael Howard (then home secretary).
Even in the first five minutes of the movie sympathy is produced for Derek; this is when their bomb shelter is shattered and bricks fall on Derek’s head causing the mental instability and epilepsy that Bentley suffers from.
Peter Medak expresses Christopher Craig as the local gangster in the film. Derek Bentley is viewed as a very naï¿½ve character and follows Craig in anything that he wishes.
The intensity of their close but brief friendship eventually forces Bentley to do something that we would not have expected; steal the keys to the butchers. At the point where Bentley waits outside Craig’s window the camera is looking down at a confused young Derek Bentley. The camera focus on Craig is always upwards indicating the hierarchy of power and influence. The scene directly flicks from Bentley and Craig walking to meet the rest of their accomplices to when the bunch are stepping off the bus. At this point the camera is worked to a “two shot” where Bentley and Craig can be seen playing like childhood friends, this indicates the sheer immaturity of the pair.
While the gang are sitting on the wall, one of the boys shouts “are we gonna do this or what?”, in return Craig replies “shut up, we don’t wanna rush this; it’s a job for Derek, right Del?”. The fact that Craig refers to Derek with that nickname outlines that Craig is trying to lead him on.
They make their way to the butchers and realize that he is still inside his shop, the camera then closes in on Craig, and this gives the idea of Craig’s reactions being the most highly valued. While this is going on, there is a quiet lazy tone in the background. The two other accomplices eventually leave to go to the cinema saying that it was a botch job. This angers Craig and he slaps one of them and repeatedly swears, events such as these “toughen up” Craig’s image and we easily make judgments and preferences about the two characters. This could have been true or it could have been Peter Medak’s bias to gain sympathy for Derek and hatred for Craig.
The pair are left standing and then they make their way to the nearby Barlow and Parks warehouse. Craig decides to rob the warehouse. Derek is very defensive and reluctant to carry out the robbery; his emotions are shown by an extreme close up in which he looks confused, scared and reluctant. Craig puts him in apposition by asking if he was going to leave him as well. Derek can be seen as being as very nervous and he starts to panic, Craig calms him down and then Craig starts to climb over the gate, he is seen by a little girl who is doing her prayers; the scenes continually flick between the two events continually for a few moments. As this happens, the effect of panic starts to increase, as does the tune in the background. Derek finishes his cigarette and follows, then the girl doing her prayers alerts her mother who then alerts her husband who proceeds to calling the police. Craig climbs the drainpipe, and Derek is seen once more from a lower point of view (Craig’s view), he is nervous as usual but climbs the pipe and both reach the roof of Barlow and Parks.
The scene flicking goes from the police office and car to the pair who are on the roof, running around. The background noise is increasingly fast and is continuously interrupted by the eerie noise of the police cars. Meanwhile as the pair try to get in the door, Craig pulls out a gun which until now Derek was completely oblivious to this but suddenly the camera closes in to him and shows the shock Derek feels. The adrenaline rush feeling is heightened as the scenes continue to flick around quicker, this time from police fetching their guns to the pair who are on the roof. As they try to break in, Craig hears the sound of the police cars, the scenario comes to a halt and the camera takes a close up to the two then moves directly to Derek’s confused face. Craig goes to the edge of the roof where he sees the police cars and shouts out “Oh shit! It’s the bogies”. Derek reacts by feeling into his pocket and pulling out the keys to the butchers, he shouts out “My dad’s gonna kill me if he sees me with these!” He then launches the keys off the roof. Medak creates sympathy here for Derek because we are shown that he is still thinking on a lower scale about what his dad will do to him instead of the law. Derek is on the brink of crying whereas Craig is deciding about which way to go about ridding the cops.
PC Fairfax makes his way up to the roof, at this scene, the music stops and the minor sounds such as his hands clambering the pole are more dynamic. Meanwhile, there are three main scenes which the camera chooses to flick to; the two on the roof, the police officers and PC Fairfax. Fairfax reaches the roof and calls out in a lazy confident voice: “I’m a police officer, give yourself up, you’re surrounded!” In reply Craig says: “If you want us then come and fucking get us!” The way in which Derek reacts to this statement from Craig gives us sympathy as he grabs him and tells him to shut up. Medak closes in to the camera just about before Fairfax is shot. Derek runs to his rescue which gives us the effect that he is caring person, Fairfax arrests him and Derek starts to cry, The PC reaches into Derek’s pocket and takes out the knuckleduster that was given to him by Craig, he uses this to bruise Derek’s face (sympathy created) and Derek does not retaliate whatsoever even though he is at advantage. Before Fairfax was shot Derek had shouted to Chris: “Let him have it Chris!” The camera had gone from Derek to Craig with a hint of slow motion before Fairfax was shot.
Craig is ever more expressed as a young devil as he starts to fire off shots in all directions, the camera angles, the facial expressions and reactions and the background music make the situation ever tenser. As the police make their way up to the roof top Craig shoots PC Sidney in the head. Derek rushes to his rescue and tries to confront Craig who threatens to kill him also, Derek is left crouching down next to the dead officer crying while with no retaliation, two PC’s grab him and move him down the stairs and out of the building. The police cars drive him down and the speed and motion keeps up well with the sound of the screeching police cars. The scenes flick from his family to the police cells.
During the trial Derek answers the questions fired at him shortly and he is confused, the camera takes a close shot on to him every time he talks which puts the feeling of pressure on to him. At some stages of the trial, the background music is very tense and Derek is unable to handle the situation so he breaks down. Peter Medak is very successful in creating a dramatic situation and he grips the viewers well, in this way he makes sympathy the only feeling that can be evoked towards Bentley and his family. For example, when the home secretary refuses to see any reason for the death penalty not being quashed, he faints. His families are also given feelings of sympathy when for example they go to see Derek as he is in jail. The barrier of mesh emotionally barricades Derek from his family. Every time the trials end, we are shown how Derek is escorted from the court room; like he is a filthy, worthless man.
The verdict from the court trials was guilty; Derek Bentley had been sentenced to death. Medak concentrates on the small things that make up the sympathy we feel towards Derek and his family. Medak also uses a relatively low level of lighting at the sadder times, for example when his family comes to see him when he is in his cell while he is being tried. There are also times when Bentley cannot answer questions and the camera closes right in to his eyes to show his confusion
The deadline is set for Derek’s execution and then suddenly events seem to go buy very quickly. To give the effect of sad times and dull feelings Medak sets the scene where the weather is bad. For example, the lady who is asking people to sign a petition to save Bentley is out in the cold under a small umbrella and there is a lot of thunder. At PC Sidney Miles funeral the home secretary says to the deceased mans wife “My deepest condolences, justice will be done”. This is a chilling statement because when someone that powerful says something like that it could mean the harshest possible punishment – death, Craig would have been too young anyway to be put to death so that would only leave Derek. This is why we feel sympathy towards Derek and his family, also, Derek’s father faints when he hears that the home secretary will not discuss the case, this gives great sympathy to his family, the photographers also let the family pass and this is very saddening. The way in which Medak mixes all these techniques creates a strong bias in favor of the Bentley family.
Finally, there is nothing that the family can do to prevent the execution and the date is set for 9o’clock in the morning. As the time comes closer, we are shown Derek asking a police officer to write a letter because Derek is too illiterate. This creates a sorrow for Derek as it shows his mental stability. Eventually, Derek signs the letter himself and we can then see him sitting kneeled down reciting a prayer. The two scenes flick from Derek and his family, the music is at its tensest so far and so is the atmosphere. In the middle of the prayer the executioner and his associates burst in and drag him to the gallows. We feel very sad and suddenly the camera is fixed on a clock chiming nine o’clock and the Bentleys hunched together crying. Meanwhile Derek is speechless and has lost his inhabitations as the noose is put above his head. Within the next three seconds he has been hung and then we can see the shoes of Derek Bentley’s on the floor. The last scene consists of the clock madly striking and sounding the chimes of the deadly nine o’clock morning. |The film ends with the family hugging together and crying. This is probably the most emotional point of the movie and Medak has worked wonders to create a masterpiece of an unfortunate story. I believe that great amounts of sympathy was evoked for Derek and his family and Medak uses great technique; weather, scene locations, music, flicking of scenes, use of shots etc. This is one of the best movies made…
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