Comparing ’14 Days in May’ with ‘Let Him Have It’

The 1980s film ‘Let Him Have It’ and the 1990s documentary ’14 Days In May’ have many similarities. They both cover one particular topic, which is capital punishment. Also, in both pieces of television, the people that are focused on are both young males who face the death sentence. They both received an unfair trial, and have both been proven innocent since they were executed. However there are differences too. The obvious one is that one is a documentary, and the other a film. Also the two men are from completely different origins. Edward Earl Johnson from ’14 Days in May’, is an American, black male. In ‘Let Him Have It’ Derek Bentley is a white, British male. The filming style in each of them is also different.

This coursework will cover the similarities and differences between the two titles.

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The film ‘Let Him Have It’ is about the life of a teenager named Derek Bentley. The film starts during the blitz in WW2, and the camera is slowly zooming in on a destroyed house where the rescue services are pulling a small boy from the wreckage. The boy is Derek Bentley. This implies that an accident when he was young resulted to him having learning difficulties in the future. After that incident, things go down hill from then on. The point is, the director; Peter Madock, has obviously researched into the past of the real Derek Bentley, and used this to base part of the film on. This helps the audience to become more understanding of the character. ’14 Days in May’ is different to this because the director has no introduction, so the audience does not know very much about Edward Earl Johnson at all. This is because the audience learns more about him as the documentary unfolds.

Another similarity between the two is the actual crimes committed. The two young men are both facing the death penalty although neither of them took a human life. However, both of them were accused of shooting but not killing a police officer. It is probable that had in fact shot but not killed a general member of the public, they would not have been executed. Having said that, Derek Bentley was charged with murder, even though he did not pull the trigger on the gun that killed a police officer. That was his friend Christopher Craig. The likelihood is that Derek Bentley was hung for murder and not Craig is because he was too young. If the police force could not execute their fellow officer’s actual murderer, then they would “have” the next best thing-Derek Bentley.

If this is what happened, and it is certainly implied in the film, then Bentley’s case shares the same bias as Johnson’s case.

Edward Earl Johnson was executed in Mississippi penitentiary. The State of Mississippi is incredibly racist and Johnson happened to be black. He was accused of shooting a police officer and trying to rape an elderly woman as well as theft. There was plenty of evidence to prove that he could not of committed any of the above crimes. However the police decided they were going to ignore this. Not only that but they also forced Johnson to sign a false confession. Weather these were the actions of a corrupt and racist police force was never proven, however Johnson’s innocence was, as was Bentleys.

Now one thing that was different about the two men’s cases is the way each of them got into a situation that landed them in the courtroom.

Derek Bentley was relatively young when he first started getting into trouble; it started with petty crime, which landed him in an approved school. He never meant to brake the law, but he did not have the confidence to say no to his friends – he just followed their lead, whilst they used him as a scapegoat.

When Bentley came out of approved school, he became a recluse and locked himself into his room. It was his sister Iris that persuaded him out. When he finally went out into the open, he met Christopher Craig, which is when the trouble started.

Christopher Craig was cocky, confidant and everything else that Bentley wanted to be. Unbeknown to him though, Craig was a criminal who owned lots of guns; and was not afraid to use them.

Craig had decided that Bentley was going to be his friend, and because he had low self esteem and no other friends, Bentley was not about to argue.

All these events and situations lead up to the shooting of a police officer, which Bentley got the blame for.

On the other hand, Edward Earl Johnson was in a completely different situation. He had not been involved in a bad crowed of people or have learning difficulties or no friends. He came from a poor, working class, black family. That was exactly the problem. The police arrested him because he was a young black male, which fitted the description some witnesses’ gave of the alleged robber. However, Johnson had an alibi for the time of the robbery, the police knew this but they still arrested him. Edward Earl Johnson was clerly a victim of racism. This shows that whatever he did or tried to do, it would not help his case.

The way both pieces of television were filmed is very different. This is mainly due to the fact that one is a film and the other is a documentary.

The film ‘Let Him Have It’ is shot with high-tech equipment, which makes it easier for the director to have dramatic images and shots. For example, When Bentley is released from approved school, there is a wide angle shot that shows Bentley and his father walking out of the huge gates into the rest of the world. Also, the use of lighting makes the two figures silhouette against the bright light beyond which is freedom.

The filmmakers also put emphasis on certain aspects of the film. An example of this could be the fact that when Christopher Craig was at school, every boy has at least one gun, and the teacher does not tell them off for having guns, simply just for bringing them to school. This emphasises the fact that after WW2, Gun crime and violence was still part of urban life, probably even more so than today.

Also they film on sets and on location. This means it is easier for the makers to have scenes that are historically accurate and look exactly how the director wants it. They can control things like the weather, what the audience does and does not see, costumes, lighting, timing, pronunciation and basically anything else that is visual or stereo.

On the other hand there is the documentary. The directors can only control things like editing, camera shots and angles. They cannot control what people are going to say, as it is not scripted or change the way people speak so that they are more easily understood. For example, Edward Earl Johnson had a strong southern accent, so at times it was difficult to understand what he was saying. The control of lighting and background noise is limited, however there are certain things they can do to their advantage.

By using the surroundings and prison atmosphere they were able to create a gritty and dramatic documentary without the aid of special effects, actors, lighting and props. They edited it carefully so that not only cold, harsh images were shown, but also the emotional and personal situations too.

A lot of the time the makers did not have to do much when it comes to revealing the cold, hard facts of life on death row. They show how most prisoners were black, and how many did not receive a fair trial. Also, the brutality of death in a gas chamber was uncovered. They filmed it being tested on a rabbit. Executioners strapped the helpless animal to a chair in the middle of the room before evacuating the area of people and locking the door. When the gas enters the room the rabbit starts to have violent muscle contractions. It is obviously in a lot of pain, and the officers’ just watch it dyeing without even flinching. It is a very powerful and disturbing image not only because the animal is brutally killed, but also because countless people have been killed in the same way; guilty or not.

Overall, the film and documentary makers both achieved what they wanted, which was to uncover the injustices committed by the legal systems in all countries. They show how even the rule makers which society is built on are corrupt, and most of the time, citizens are powerless against their decisions. It does not matter how obviously wrong the state is, they are blinded by power, money and personal issues. These mistakes are not accidents though, and cost innocent peoples lives’.

In my opinion, capital punishment is a mistake that can cost innocent peoples lives’. The people who run the country have personal insecurities and think that criminals are born not made, so therefore must die. Capital punishment is a quick and easy solution to an ever growing, complex problem.

These programs show two innocent men who are sacrificed due the governments’ inadequacies. They manage to convey the trauma the victim and their families go through without making it unoriginal and melodramatic like a lot of other features based on true stories.

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