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The Young Poisoners Handbook
Every now and again when wading through movies about infamous killers, you will find a little gem. This partly British, partly German made film is one of those.
The movie is based on the infamous British poisoner Graham Young who was institutionalised for murder at the age of fourteen and was let out eight years later to kill again.
I had heard about this movie a few years ago but was put off by the fact that it was billed as a black comedy. How the hell anyone could make fun of such a vile, sadistic man is beyond me. However, I decided to watch it and I was really surprised. Even though it does have that 'Full Monty/When Saturday Comes' look to it and contains some very recognisable English actors it is a very dark tale and the black comedy element turned out to be a good way to film it. Had it just been an out and out serial killer flick it would have failed miserably because it would have been hard to take the young Graham Young too seriously. A movie about the older Young would've been too heavy as well in my opinion and it would have fell into B-movie or made for TV anonymity through lack of interest.
What we do end up with is a well-made story of a troubled young man who grows up to be obsessed with poisons and how they affect people. The actor who plays young, Hugh O Conor, does a fantastic job and he is a terrific young actor but where the movie failed a little for me was having Hugh play the twenty-three year old Graham and then show him in his cell in 1990 when he would've been in his forties but still looking like a sixteen year old.
Overall though, if you wave that last fact aside, what you are left with is a tight little movie that not many people can remember. It sells on eBay and amazon for anything between thirty and ninety pounds as it is hard to come by and usually only available in the Region 1 format that I own myself.
The movie was directed by Benjamin Ross who has worked on the brilliant 'Trial and Retribution' series and was made in nineteen ninety-five. It is hard to believe that this movie is already eighteen years old this year.
So, let's take a look at the plot.
The Young Poisoners handbook charts the life and crimes of Graham Young and is loosely based on his story. Graham is a British teenager who lived in St Albans and allegedly poisoned family, friends, and co-workers. Graham is highly intelligent, but completely amoral. He is childlike in his grasp of reality and does not seem to have any conscience. He does how ever know right from wrong but feels compelled to carry out his heinous crimes all for the sake of his so-called research.
He becomes interested in science, especially chemistry, and begins to read avidly both at home and at his local library. Something of a social misfit, he is fascinated by morbid subjects such as poisons and murder (please read a later part of my review to reveal Young's actual thought process). His family environment is intolerable to him and, in particular, his stepmother torments him and makes him feel inadequate through degrading experiences such as scrubbing him clean in the bath. He decides to poison those who annoy him, first with antimony and later with the non-traceable and deadly thallium. He is very nonchalant in his acts and although wary of being caught, he flirts with danger by displaying his knowledge of poisons and diagnosing people's symptoms after he has poisoned them. His carelessness leads to his capture and he is sentenced to 'rehabilitation' at a psychiatric institution. Once there, he undertakes to deceive the new psychiatrist sent there to 'cure' him by faking the writings of his dreams and lying about his feelings. The psychiatrist is obviously not fooled and helps him to overcome his poisoning habits by using chemicals for good things like growing medicinal herbs.
After eight years Graham is let back out into the community with devastating effect.
The movie follows the Graham Young story pretty closely but there were a few key elements omitted and a few moments in the movie that could easily be misconstrued.
Firstly in real life when he was released, it was under the recommendation of a Doctor that said he was cured and felt safe he would not harm anyone. This was a Doctor who years early had promised the same thing with another inmate, only to see him murder again on his release. Young was also set free after he clearly stated to officials and Doctors at the institute that he would 'Make damn sure that I take a life for each of the eight years I have served here'. How clear did they want the alarm bells to ring?
The most disturbing thing about Young for me apart from the obvious of course, was the fact that he was a racist and a fascist and he worshipped Adolf Hitler and openly wore a Swastika badge, which he would lovingly kiss when he thought no one was looking. In the movie we are not told this and he never speaks of it but in one scene as the camera pans across his bedroom wall we see a poster for a Mondo movie about the Klu Klux Klan and in another scene he sits by a sign that has the words 'Pakis Out' spray-painted across it. No for me the director would have been better stating Young's interests more openly because it could easily be misconstrued that the director himself held racist beliefs and was dotting through the movie as a kind of message; a dangerous way of putting it in the movie in my opinion, especially when the character makes no mention of his fetish. I would've preferred it being left out because it just does not fit with the lead actor looking like he does. Yes, Graham Young was indeed a schoolboy when he began his life of crime but he was sadistic, twisted and didn't suffer fools lightly.
I still think it would've been better to have another actor play the older Graham Young and end the picture properly. I stand by my initial comments about Hugh O Conor though because he really does do a fantastic job in the role. It just needed more of an evil looking sod to play him though. I suppose some will argue that having him look angelic makes it even more shocking and unbelievable and not all killers look evil, of course; but Graham Young did look like an evil man and he was tetchy and unbearable to be around as well as a staunch Nazi, but we don't get any of that from the Graham Young in the movie.
There are a few familiar faces in the film. Young's Father is played by Roger Lloyd Pack, the distinguished TV actor that many of you will know as 'Trigger' from Only Fools and Horses.
His sister 'Winnie' is played by Charlotte Coleman who has been in many British movies, including Four Weddings and a Funeral and she was a well-known child actor who played Marmalade Atkins.
Graham's Mother is played by another TV stalwart, Ruth Sheen, who has starred in shows such as The Bill, Doc Martin, Silent Witness and more recently The Accused.
British favourite, John Thompson of 'Cold Feet' fame, also plays a small role in the movie.
All in all I would recommend this movie as a good little watch but I warn you that you will never look at a cup of tea that is handed to you the same way ever again.
The movie could've been more serious and could've made Young look like the horrible person he was but it makes him look like an unfortunate kid who knew no better and was only trying to experiment. While this is true, Young also knew one hundred per cent what he was doing but I also think that in the end the director chose to make a watchable movie instead of the usually morbid and gore enhanced clap-trap that is often churned out when these types of movies are made, so for that I give him kudos and a three out of five stars.
The Young Poisoner's Handbook is a great little forgotten British film from 1995 directed by Benjamin Ross. The film revolves around Graham Young (Hugh O'Conor), a high IQ misfit and introverted outsider who develops a remarkable scientific ability and fascination from a very young age. The story begins in 1961 with Graham 14-years-old and living a fairly dull life in the drab working class suburbia of Neasden with his dysfunctional television obsessed parents (played Ruth Sheen and Roger Lloyd Pack) and very annoying older sister Winnie (the late Charlotte Coleman). Graham, who has a very strange sense of himself and the world, is vaguely repulsed by his parents and the vain Winnie and spends most of his time in his bedroom conducting elaborate chemistry experiments in the hope of somehow creating a diamond. After putting antimony sulfide in his vials he inadvertently produces a lethal toxin which he soon becomes obsessed by. Rapidly discovering new things about the world of toxins all the time, Graham dreams about becoming the most brilliant poisoner of all time and decides the first test case will be his awful stepmother...
The Young Poisoner's Handbook is loosely based on the story of the real life Graham Young who became known as the 'Teacup Poisoner' for his somewhat anti-social activities in the sixties and early seventies. The real Young though was apparently a more prosaic character, just a plain nutcase and obsessed with Nazis or something. The Graham Young in this film is, understandably for cinematic purposes, very different and brilliantly played by Hugh O'Conor. O'Conor's Graham Young is a genius, outwardly courteous, gentle and well spoken (with a very dry sense of humour) and strangely rather likeable. The only problem is that the coldly calculating Graham, with his wide-eyed scientific curiosity, has no heart or emotions whatsoever and is far more concerned with his ongoing chemical experiments than the welfare of individual human beings. "Life is a series of illusions that only a scientist could strip away," reflects Graham with his clinical view of everything.
It is only when Graham tries to poison his father that he is caught and sent to Harshhurst Hospital, an institution for the criminally insane. Oddly, Graham wants to be caught for the notoriety and fame, a crucial thing for the curriculum vitae of any great poisoner in his own estimation. Deemed fit to re-enter society several years later by the liberal and trendy dream analysing prison psychiatrist Dr Zeigler (Anthony Sher), Graham is fixed up with a menial job as a storekeeper at a small, cheerful, photographic laboratory. The question of how long will he be able to resist his scientific fascination with poisoning people makes for a compelling final arc to the film, especially as Graham is now placed in an environment full of opportunity and temptation with an abundance of both chemicals and people.
Despite the macabre nature of the story, The Young Poisoner's Handbook is not a horror film or a thriller. It's more of an offbeat black comedy and social satire with a sneakily malevolent wit, sort of like a cross between A Clockwork Orange and a vintage Ealing comedy. The story is certainly morbidly compelling though from very early on when Graham poisons his stepmother and keeps a meticulous scientific diary charting her progress as he experiments and tinkers with the dosage. This is probably the darkest portion of the film but The Young Poisoner's Handbook always offsets its subject matter with a very genteel British atmosphere and a sly sense of humour. Plus, his stepmother is so unpleasant your sympathy leans towards Graham here - "You contaminate everything you touch. I'm going to scrub you till you are raw!"
Although The Young Poisoner's Handbook is set in a very down to earth English suburbia, it maintains a slightly heightened reality and an offbeat quality that lifts it well above the numerous abysmal British films made on the back on Lottery money from the nineties onwards. This is a film that deserved a much wider audience and following. The Young Poisoner's Handbook also paints an effectively dull portrait of ordinary sixties working class life and interestingly conveys the gradual social shifts of the time as it moves into the somewhat more kitsch seventies. The film is essentially three acts, consisting of Graham's early experiments with his family, his time in prison and then his release. The prison section is possibly the only part of the film that might slightly sag or seem a trifle familiar to some viewers although it's always absorbing as Graham befriends the pioneering psychiatrist Zeigler and persuades the authorities that he is now completely sane and cured. The Young Poisoner's Handbook seems to be critical in particular of trendy psychiatrists playing God and deciding when some sociopath or murderer is suitable to be released back into society.
Having Graham lumbered with a job in brown overalls for which he is, of course, ridiculously too intelligent, provides some funny little moments and The Young Poisoner's Handbook does a great job in capturing the sometimes lairy and often tedious banter of a small factory type environment where everybody thinks they are a comedian. The misanthropic Graham's attempts to fit into his new job without standing out too much make for compelling viewing and the third act really amps up the tension as Graham goes about his dull job, which includes serving everybody a mug of tea! There is a great little moment where Graham is waiting to be interviewed for the job and sighs heavily when a youngster next to him complains that the job will be impossible to get because the employer wants O'Levels, as if that was some preposterously out of reach qualification that no mere mortal could ever aspire to. There is also another amusing moment when Graham starts questioning a police scientific expert and proves considerably more knowledgeable, much to the bewilderment of the older man. O'Conor gives a very compelling and impressive performance as Graham and his emotionless and analytical narration throughout the film is spot-on.
The Young Poisoner's Handbook will probably not appeal to everyone, but this is a dark, amusing and very entertaining film that deserves more of a cult following. Certainly worth watching if you've never seen it before.
This film is based on real life poisoner Graham Young (Played by Hugh O'Conor) and his obsession with toxicology. In the film it shows a young Graham's amorality when he poisons a friend in order to date his girlfriend and also his fascination with the macabre when while on the date he talks to her about a deadly car crash. While using his family as guinea pigs in his poison experiments he discovers thallium when reading a comic about the Dutch resistance poisoning a whole army of Germans in the occupied Netherlands during World War Two. Graham uses Thallium to poison his step mother to death and was poisoning the rest of his family as well. When arrested he struggles with a police officer and drops his "exit dose" and he is jailed in an institute for the criminally insane at the age of 14. During his time at the institute a psychiatrist works with Graham to help rehabilitate him. Young is released back into society and gets a job at a camera manufacture company where its revealed that thallium is used in the shutter system. Graham reverts back to his old ways and over time manages to poison many of his co-workers, killing two of them before he is caught and sent to prison on a long term basis, where he dies by poisoning himself.
This film is good but it is not as accurate as it could have been for instance in the film it focuses on Young trying to create a diamond from his knowledge of poison and chemistry but in fact his aim was to become a famous poisoner of which he succeeded. The real Graham Young died of a heart attack and didn't poison himself. Hugh O'Conor portrays Young well in the film and the film made for good watching.
Graham Young(Hugh O'Conor) is a bit of a social misfit, his family find him a nuisance and he doesn't really have any friends. He spends most of the time in his room doing experiments with his chemistry kit. One day he learns of an experiment that if done right makes a diamond, but if done wrong makes a lethal poison. The chemical he needs is antimony. The experiment goes wrong and he is left with a poison. One day his stepmother finds some porn mags and blames it on Graham she then scrubs him raw and burns his beloved chemistry kit, to get revenge he decides to poison her. He does this at first with antimony and carefully charts her decline, then he discovers thallium. He keeps his her on the brink of death for ages and watches as her hair falls out, she pukes blood and eventually can't talk. He also puts chemicals in his sisters eye drops so she can't see what he is doing. His stepmum eventually dies and Graham is caught. Graham is sent to an institute for the insane. Here he manages to grab the attention of Dr Zeigler (Antony Sher) who takes on a few patients in a bid to cure and rehabilitate them. Several years later Graham is released and gets a job in a camera factory. Life is fine for a while until he meets an old friend whilst being shown around one of the labs, thallium. Unfortunately Graham's main job at the factory is preparing tea, giving him the perfect opportunity to fall back into his old tricks. Not many people have really heard of this quiet little british film about a real life neo nazi poisoner. However I managed to see it four or five years back and finally found it on video last year. I was surprised how darkly comic this tragic tale is and also how interesting and watchable it was. The story itself is far from funny, it is really an exploration into a sick individuals crimes and the consequences of them but the tone of the film makes it funny because it is a satire. Firstly the film is set,
I think in the 50's/60's and then moves on to the 70's later on when Graham is released. This initially makes it quite funny to watch because of the attire and settings of the film, for example when Graham is released and goes to live with his sister she gladly shows off her hideously decorated sitting room. Another funny element is Graham and his naivety because he is a loner who spends a lot of his young life locked up in an initiation so doesn't really know about life, also sometimes he can be so uncaring and cold it is funny. He feels absolutely no guilt over what he does and kindly tends to his stepmother even skipping school to do so whilst charting her illness and predicting her death. The minor characters are also good especially his fellow employees. The humour isn't really laugh out loud but is ironic quirky and can often be appreciated on a more intellectual level. The film really focuses on Graham who is played wonderfully but Hugh O'Conor who looks perfect as the geeky school boy gone bad. He is really heartless and psychotic but promotes sympathy because firstly we get to know him so well and at first he seems almost driven to it by the experiment failing and his horrible family, secondly the fact that he seems unable to help himself from poisoning and seems a slave to his own psychosis. The film itself is a strong debut from director Benjamin Ross who also co-wrote. He keeps a good speeded pace, although the prison bit does seem to drag a little I just wanted more poisoning. He manages to turn Graham into an anti-hero who the audience both like and are appalled by and also I wanted him to get away, he reminded me of Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) another, in my eyes likable serial killer. The narration from Graham is a good touch because we get to learn more about his motivations and feelings. Basically the film is about a teenager obsessed with gore and murder (He reads things like 'My friend on the
Slab') but essentially crazy enough to go over the edge. More people should watch this highly enjoyable film, it rocks.