5 OCTOBER 1991, Page 40


Let Him Have It ('15', Odeon Leicester Square)

Life and soul

Harriet Waugh

This is a wonderful and curious film. Taken from a novel by Roddy Doyle, whose latest novel, The Van, has been short-listed for the Booker Prize, The Com- mitments tells the story of the formation of a soul band in Dublin, and its rise and final disintegration before it has tasted the fruits of its success.

Its splendid cast of instrumentalists and singers is mostly made up of amateur actors chosen from the thousand bands that play in pubs and at gigs around Ire- land. They turn out to be natural actors. The players in the band, which is called The Commitments, were chosen by direc- tor Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning, Fame, and Midnight Express). He seems to have picked them in much the same way as Jimmy Rabbitte, the hero of The Commit- ments, has brought together the 12 mem- bers of the band in the film. Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkin), a thin, hard- nosed, intelligent and likable fellow, who is fairly obsessed with soul music, is asked by two no-hope strummers to manage them. Havingconsented, Jimmy picks the lead singer Deco, a bus conductor, after hearing him singing drunkenly at a wedding. He then chooses the others by putting an announcement in the local paper asking, 'Have you got Soul? If so the World's Hardest Working Band is looking for you'. Just as when Alan Parker auditioned for members of the band, hundreds answer Jimmy's call. He ends up with an assort- ment of dubiously talented dreamers, rang- ing from Joe 'the lips', a middle-aged hippy trumpet player who claims to have played with Elvis and other greats, to Stephen who plays the organ in church and is studying to become a doctor. Three girls are chosen because one of them is sexy, and the three come as a package. They ululate nicely in the background, but seem a bit dull when they sing lead.

This is a Dublin of slums swarming with dogs and small children. With the excep- tion of the student doctor, the members of the band come from large, impoverished families, and have low expectations of life until Jimmy inspires them with a vision. He tells them that although soul is black music, the Irish are the blacks of Europe, Dublin- ers are the blacks of Ireland and North- siders are the blacks of Dublin.' The plot is more incidental than dramatic, but each member of the group makes its mark. They Jostle, fight, have sex and joke; and they give their first gig in a church under the benign auspices of a kindly priest, while Protected by a violent psychopath who has been taken on as a bouncer. It is funny, warm, moving, lively — an altogether enjoyable film. As for Deco (Andrew Young, 17 going on 27), the obnoxious lead singer, it is worth seeing the film just to hear him sing, and it would be very surpris- ing if he is not heard of again.

Let Him Have It works against the odds. It is a polemic film, with a wonderful cast Of English actors. It is out to convince the viewer that 19-year-old Derek Bentley (Chris Eccleston) should never have been sent to the gallows for the murder commit- ted by 17-year-old Christopher Craig (Paul Reynolds) in 1952. The film could have failed, because most people are familiar With the tale and need litttle convincing. (It Is, of course, another matter to get a gov- ernment to admit this.)

In the film Bentley is an epileptic, with the mental age of 11, who is easily led by Others. He is befriended by Chris Craig, a hyperactive delinquent schoolboy obsessed With guns and out to emulate his older brother, Niven. Niven Craig likes fast cars, flashy blondes and doing robberies. Chris befriends Derek because he thinks he is a hard man: Bentley had spent two years in a reformatory.

It is now in doubt as to whether Bentley ever said the words, 'Let him have it', when he and Craig faced the police on top of the warehouse that they were attempting to rob, but in the film he does say it. Howev- er, as the contention of the film is that, even if he did say it, he should not have been hanged, this does not matter. The court scene is the least riveting part of the film, as you know he is going to be found guilty. The emotional wallop the film deliv- ers is in the attempts of the family, lead by Tom Courtenay as the father and Eileen Atkins as the mother, to get a reprieve. This is deeply moving. and I nearly wept.