This film is based on a true story about a British teenager who allegedly poisoned family, friends, and co-workers. Graham is highly intelligent, but completely amoral. He becomes ... See full summary »
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This film is based on a true story about a British teenager who allegedly poisoned family, friends, and co-workers. Graham is highly intelligent, but completely amoral. He becomes interested in science, especially chemistry, and begins to read avidly. Something of a social misfit, he is fascinated by morbid subjects such as poisons and murder. His family environment is intolerable to him and, in particular, his stepmother torments him. He decides to poison those who annoy him, first with antimony and later with thallium. He smugly thinks himself cleverer than all those around him, but nevertheless he is caught and sentenced to 'rehabilitation' at a psychiatric institution. Once there, he undertakes to deceive the new eminent psychiatrist sent there to 'cure' him, thereby securing his release. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
The "Newton's Diamond" that Graham is obsessed with is a fictional device. Antimony sulfide forms a crystal called stibnite which is gray and opaque, not clear and colorless like most gem-quality diamonds. "Diamond" was the name of Isaac Newton's dog. See more »
When Dr. Zeigler visits the institution for mentally unstable criminals in which Graham is hospitalized, the director of the institution says, referred to another patient: "Vulpes pilum mutat, non mores", saying it means "The leopard never changes his spots". Graham corrects him, saying it means instead: "The wolf changes its fur, but not its nature". Actually, "vulpes" means "fox". See more »
Why has 'The Young Poisoner's Handbook' not developed a cult following? I have some theories, but this is certainly a film that should have found a larger audience at some point.
This is pitch black British comedy near its best, reminiscent of both Hitchcock and 'A Clockwork Orange' -- its three-part structure is similar to that of 'A Clockwork Orange,' given that the protagonist is free, then confined, then free again to illustrate the vanity of "rehabilitation" where it concerns psychopaths, and we even hear excerpts from Purcell's Funeral Music for Queen Mary, which Wendy Carlos incorporated into her electronic score for 'Clockwork.' Whether 'The Young Poisoner's Handbook' is paying homage or borrowing, the movie itself is a highly individual work that should please anyone with a fondness for Orwell or Ealing.
Hugh O'Conor, with his wide-eyed gift for simulating innocence, is an ideal selection for the role of Graham Young, the real-life poisoner of the British village of Bovingdon, who slowly poisoned his stepmother to death with antimony sulfide, finishing the job with thallium. Cursed with a banal home life and a sociopathic mind, his self-described "gift for chemistry" is put to obviously nefarious uses, occasionally using friends as guinea pigs before the main attraction.
The director, Benjamin Ross, makes a tremendously impressive debut here. His selection of music together with his fluid editing and camera-work often produce stirring and exciting results, the 1960s small British town setting keenly observed, with a very black wit. Graham's wicked stepmother, played by the singular Ruth Sheen (seen in many Mike Leigh films), joyfully accepts her first dose of poison after finding a box of Velvet Victories chocolates on her bedroom pillow, with a note reading "To my darling mother, xxxx." There's a vivid sense of the dustiness of the Young household, the darkness of Graham's bedroom punctured by the eerie glow of his flasks, the frustration of an overcrowded working class household where the telly's always running with the silliness of popular variety programs. The film also adroitly contrasts the self-important grandeur of Young's genocidal ambitions with the unglamorous pettiness of the actual crimes and the prosaic Bovingdon environment to which his perpetration of them was fortunately limited (the real Graham Young had wanted to be known as "The World's Poisoner," but was instead given the considerably less flattering moniker "The Teacup Poisoner"). Absurdity and grimness are very skillfully balanced. A marvelous, overlooked film.
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