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Bias is prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person or group
compared with another, especially in a way considered to be unfair.
Film directors use bias when making a film because they want the
viewers to have particular feelings towards the situation or one or
more of the characters for example sympathise with them. I think that
Peter Medak wanted to make this film because he thought that a great
miscarriage of justice had been carried out and wanted the world to
feel the way he did by making a film version of the true story that is
biased in favour of Derek Bentley. I also think the purpose of this
film being made was to clear Bentley's name and highlight the family's
suffering. I think this because although it is a film which connects
immediately with entertainment, I don't think that was the main reason
it was filmed. Using film is a clever way of making money because when
a new film comes out lots of people tend to go to see it out of
curiosity, especially if it is true. However, as the viewers get
captivated by the film, I think they would be drawn into sympathising
towards the Bentley family and hoping no court trials in the future
have the same outcome.
Derek Bentley was hanged on the 28th of January 1953, at the age of 19
for a murder he did not commit. Derek Bentley was illiterate and is
alleged to have had a mental age of 11. He also suffered from epilepsy
as a result of a head injury received during the war.
On Sunday the 2nd of November 1952, Derek Bentley went with his
friend, 16 year old Christopher Craig, to see if they could carry out
a burglary. Bentley was armed with a knife and a knuckle-duster which
Craig had recently given him. Craig had a similar knife but was also
armed with an Eley revolver. They had planned to break into a
warehouse belonging to a company called Parker & Barlow in Croydon.
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they climbed onto the roof of the warehouse they were noticed by a
little girl who lived opposite and whose mother phoned the police.
Craig and Bentley were on the roof as the police arrived and attempted
to run but DC Fairfax quickly detained Bentley. Craig decided to shoot
his way out and fired at DC Fairfax wounding him in the shoulder.
Later, Craig fired the fatal shot which killed PC Constable Miles.
Both Craig and Bentley were convicted of the murder of PC Miles at
their trial six weeks later, the jury returned guilty verdicts on both
youths with a recommendation for mercy in Bentley's case. Although
Derek Bentley did not have a gun and was already restrained by police
at the time of the shooting, the police claimed he was equally guilty
of the crime because he supposedly incited to his accomplice, the
words 'Let him have it, Chris'. Many people have argued that these
words actually meant let him have the gun and were not words of
encouragement. Craig could not be sentenced to death because he was
under-age so thoughts of vengeance turned to Bentley. After the trial,
many attempts were made to secure a reprieve for Bentley. The Home
Secretary blocked all attempts by his MP colleagues even to get the
matter discussed. At one point, it was argued that a Parliamentary
debate on whether the sentence should be carried out could only take
place after the sentence had been carried out. Derek Bentley, at age
nineteen, was hanged in Wandsworth at 9am on 28th January 1953. Chris
Craig was released from prison in May 1963 after serving ten years and
he settled in Buckinghamshire.
The Craig and Bentley story has been so controversial over the past
four decades because many peopled believed that a terrible wrong had
been committed by the justice system and it did not seem right to walk
away without questioning it. I don't think that Derek Bentley should
have been hanged because of several reasons including the fact that he
had a mental age of 11. Another very obvious reason is that he did not
commit a murder; he was accused of inciting his friend to murder which
he and Craig both denied.
Peter Medak has gained our sympathy for Derek Bentley using several
different methods. After watching this film the viewer feels quite
emotional and sorry for Derek. The film most certainly portrays him to
be harmless and innocent, he is played by Chris Eccleston as a
likeable teenager, inoffensive, fond of his family, able to deal with
life in its ordinary aspects, but incapable of standing up to his
friend Chris. The film makes us feel sorry for Derek and puts us on
his side; this is done by focusing Derek as the main character.
Christopher Craig is shown as the stereotypical "baddie" in the film
who influences Derek into wrong. The introduction of Chris Craig into
the film is quite the typical entry of an evil, mischievous character,
so the audience immediately knows that Craig is the villain on first
sight. Medak builds a case that leaves no doubt in the viewers mind
that Bentley should never have been tried. He follows Bentley's life
episodically from the time he as a child was buried alive in a
building rubble during the bombing of London; an experience that that
Medak implies left Bentley with epilepsy or other brain damage or
both. This is an effective opening because it builds up tension and
starts towards building up the viewers' sympathy towards him as he was
afflicted with such a mortifying disease. This builds up a sympathetic
portrait of a young man who needed help more than hanging.
The scenes on the roof also lead to the viewer feeling sorry for
Bentley because he is shown as weak and vulnerable - when one of the
officers grabbed hold of him he remained wholly docile beside him and
did not make any attempts to get away, suggesting that he didn't want
to get into trouble and didn't mean to cause any intentionally. Derek
also made remarks regarding his and the officers' safety which shows
his caring nature - not many people would be worried about the safety
of anybody else, especially the police officers in this situation.
In his reconstruction of the trial, Medak is unforgiving, showing a
legal system less concerned with justice than with proving itself
correct. The point in which the viewers were intended to sympathise
with Bentley the most was probably at the trial due to the judge being
so prejudiced against Bentley. Craig is however portrayed as the
villain and the viewers are not in any way made to feel sorry for him.
When the judge asked him a question about the number of guns he
carried to school each day he replied with "well not all at the same
time." This shows a lack of respect for the judge and Craig is again
perceived as the villain.
However, Bentley is shown to be very nervous and scared about what
could happen. We are told that Bentley is illiterate and not very
intelligent. This makes the audience sympathise because it was an
explanation as to why he was acting the way he was. He didn't seem to
know what to do or say, his had was mostly down and he gave short,
quick answers to the prosecutor. Another character was the judge who
was portrayed as biased, as he seemed to know who was guilty before
even sentencing. When making a closing statement he emphasised the
fact that Bentley had a knuckle-duster, he said it was a "horrible
weapon." This shows bias because by saying this, the judge was in
other words telling the jury to make sure that they returned guilty
verdicts on them. It is very obvious to the viewers what the judge
meant by saying this, so they would probably take Bentley's side. When
Bentley was being questioned about the knuckle-duster and why he took
it from Craig, he replied with: "Something I'd never had Sir, a gift."
This line shows just how much of a child Bentley is, as most children
accept any gift given to them on the principle that it is a gift and
must therefore be accepted. This was the idea that Bentley was working
on when he accepted the knuckle-duster from Craig,
After a few minutes of questioning from the barrister, the judge
joined in with his own questions, which made it seem as though the two
men were attacking Bentley and forcing him to confess. As Bentley
becomes more and more terrified the director shows the audience things
from Bentley's point of view: the camera flicks back and forth from
Humphreys to the judge as they alternately fire questions at Bentley.
The camera then zooms in on Bentley who, at the director's choice,
still has bruises left over from Fairfax's rough treatment of him, two
months earlier. These bruises heighten the audience's feelings of self
pity towards Bentley and also make him appear more vulnerable. As the
camera continues to zoom in on Bentley the audience can hear his
increasingly tense breathing and nervousness and see his eyes
flickering around the room. The director has done this in order to
show the audience how weak and vulnerable Bentley really is. The fact
that he is crying also shows the audience how child-like he is.
There have been many films about capital punishment. They all convey
the same message: no matter what arguments can be made in its favour,
if the law makes a mistake, an innocent life is lost. Few lives were
more innocent than Derek Bentley's.