This film, based upon a true story, illustrates the misapplication of the death penalty. In 1953 England, a slow-witted young man, Derek Bentley, was executed, hanged for his alleged part in the killing of a police officer. It was a case that received much notoriety at the time.
Derek Bentley (Chris Eccleston) was a learning disabled, young man who was easily led. His sister, Iris (Clare Holman), however, treated him like a regular bloke, and he thrived under her watchful eye. His steadfast, working class parents, William and Lilian Bentley (Tom Courtenay and Eileen Atkins), did everything they could to ensure that their son would stay on the straight and narrow. Still, boys will be boys, and one night, Derek, wanting to be one of the boys, simply hooked up with the wrong crowd who was up to no good. Although Derek was unarmed, another of the other boys was not, and when an inevitable clash with the police came about, a police officer was shot. Derek's by now famous words, "Let him have it", were the catalyst for his trial, conviction, and execution.
Notwithstanding Derek's learning disability, the ambiguity of the statement attributed to him, and his tangential involvement during the shootout with the police, Derek was given the death penalty. The draconian sentence was a heartbreaking blow to Derek and his family, as it was always Derek's position that he meant for the shooter to let the police have the gun. Nearly forty-five years later, after persistent efforts by his beloved sister, Iris, Derek was finally exonerated by the very courts that had earlier found him guilty. In reality, it was too little, too late, for Derek.
Chris Eccleston gives a bravura performance as the slow-witted Derek, compelling and moving.