By People Staff
December 16, 1991 12:00 PM

Eileen Atkins, Tom Courtenay

It does not follow that behind every great miscarriage of justice lies a great movie. Case in point: the well-intentioned but ultimately unsatisfying Let Him Have It, based on one of the more sensational trials in Britain in the 20th century.

Derek Bentley (newcomer Chris Eccleston), a 19-year-old epileptic with the mental capacity of an 11-year-old, was tried, convicted and executed for his part in a botched 1952 robbery that ended with the murder of a police officer. The case against Bentley hinged on his having cried “Let him have it” to his armed crony, a cold-blooded 16-year-old hoodlum played by Paul Reynolds. But was Bentley’s shout (which set off a hideous shooting spree) a command to kill or—as all the evidence suggested—simply a plea for his accomplice to surrender his gun?

The movie’s impact is dulled by sluggish pacing, the frequent—and ultimately contrived—use of high camera angles, and some flat-footed foreshadowing. While the ease was supposedly a cause célèbre in Britain, the movie fails to give more than the most perfunctory sense of the media circus surrounding the trial, the public outrage at Bentley’s conviction and the political climate that permitted the sentence to stand. Tom Courtenay and Eileen Atkins are dependably fine as Bentley’s anguished parents, but Eccleston plays the doomed Bentley as a bashful patsy rather than as a young man of severely impaired mental capacity—thus weakening the sense of outrage and horror at his fate. (R)