Without wallowing in nostalgia, Peter Medak attempts to understand the world in which he grew up with an admirably low-key directing style. Medak's view of post-war Britain is far from flattering, although it may be hard for Americans to understand the toll extended rationing placed on Brits until 1954 for food and 1957 for petrol. The 1950's were not a good time for Britain and the country lost a great deal in international prestige as the decade wore on and its inflexible leaders continued to make one error in judgment after another.
“Let Him Have It” tries to recreate some of the feeling of that era by showing the tattered rituals as the strong sources of comfort they represented to a country of bewildered men, women and children. Medak also casts striking images from the 'kitchen sink' school of filmmaking like Tom Courtenay, who has never been better, as an agonized father, and the scene-stealing Murray Melvin as a school master who demands the hidden arsenal of guns that his students have brought to class, and the usually unsympathetic James Villiers as a compassionate but ineffectual barrister.
“The Krays”, filmed by Medak in 1990, is a film about vicious criminals who were still alive and well (at least through 1995, when Ronnie died of natural causes at 61), if segregated from a society which no longer believed in the death penalty at the time of their crimes. The wrongful executions of Timothy Evans, Ruth Ellis and Derek Bentley (this film's protagonist, who never killed anyone) reflected the values of an era that has long since passed, but it would be false to show that era without revealing why those values were once important. Medak clearly extends measured sympathy for people who acted out against what they saw as a dreary and changeless way of life.
If only for the splendid acting, both “The Krays” and “Let Him Have It” are well-worth seeing, and it is Medak's thoughtful voice as a filmmaker that gives even sharper poignance to his well-crafted studies of how Britain grudgingly entered the twentieth century, well over fifty years too late. At press time, Iris Bentley continued her 45-year fight for her brother Derek's posthumous pardon: a pardon for a murder he never committed. Also recommended for Britain's shifting position on the death penalty: 1971's “10 Rillington Place”, “1985's “Dance With A Stranger”.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/29/06
Let Him Have It
France/UK/Netherlands - 1991