This is a movie for anybody who thinks the death penalty is a black-and-white issue. In Let Him Have It, based on a real case that happened in 1950's Britain, an underage but guilt-free sixteen-year-old is put in prison, while his mentally retarded nineteen-year-old accomplice is put on death row.
Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston, who you may know from several modern horror films or as the 9th Doctor) has been addled since he was injured during the London bombings, in which he was covered in rubble and suffered head trauma. He is left with the IQ of a eleven-year-old, limited options, and a trusting soul.
Some years later, he is released from a correctional institution and brought back to his London home. Embarrassed by his term in the school, he remains housebound for a year, until his caring sister convinces him to leave the house.
Derek, due to his naivete, cannot seem to stay out of trouble, and gangster-wannabe Christopher Craig (Paul Reynolds) quickly takes notice of him, proving what we already suspect -- in reality, hoods, gang members, and other criminals don't pick rocket scientists for their schemes. They pick the naive, the trusting, and the intellectually weak, those who will stay with them just long enough to take the heat off off them if and when they get caught.
In Derek, Chris finds just that, and soon Chris, Derek, and Chris' group of slackwits are raising hell. Derek's family, a good family, tries to keep him out of trouble, but Derek's need to be accepted is too strong. Then the duo goes too far, and the crime and the ambiguity of Derek's part in it throws everyone involved into turmoil.
How can you justify the execution of a man with the mind of an eleven-year-old? That is the question on hand in Let Him Have It, which also asks, to a lesser degree, can we even support the government's decision to end a human life? Call me Liberal, but I question these things.
The acting is good from all the leads. Despite the fact that Chrisopher Eccleston never really convinced me he was truly mentally retarded, he's a capable actor, and the performances of his parents (Tom Courtney and Eileen Atkins) and sister (Clare Holman) are moving and emotional.
There is, however, an awe-inducing scene (not a good awe) plucked straight from Beethoven's 2nd -- yes, I know this came first -- in which our none-too-bright hero watches his crush walk past, as -- ugh -- music starts playing. This and the excessive piano music occasionally makes it a hard pill to swallow.
The movie tries to make you sympathize with Derek. Maybe it tries too hard. But although I suspect it amps up the drama and exaggerates certain details to make you feel sympathy for the young man, it succeeds to a point and brings up a political issue many people take for granted.