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The Young Poisoner's Handbook (DVD)
Member Name: Jojoborne
The Young Poisoner's Handbook (DVD)
Advantages: A serial killer tale with a black comedy, British feel to it.
Disadvantages: Not to everyone's taste........literally
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.
Summary: Based on the true story of notorious serial killer, Graham Young