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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.
Director Benjamin Ross has done a terrific job creating a humorously
view of life through the eyes of Graham Young, alienated boy genius and
serial poisoner. Hugh O'Conor perfectly portrays Graham's carefully
innocent appearance, which Graham constantly feigns lest anyone find out
what he is really thinking in his twisted, calculating mind. O'Conor
manages the tricky job of looking innocent enough to fool the other
characters, but maniacal enough that the audience always knows what is
Through Graham's eccentric (to say the least) point-of-view, we witness the painfully mundane Young family, the pitifully easy to fool psychiatric and medical community, and the pathetically simple-minded middle-class. Ross captures the comic disdain with which Graham sees his surroundings without disposing of the distance necessary to be horrified at Graham's "experiments" and the fate of his unwitting subjects.
Because of Ross' careful tightrope walking between distance from and intimacy with Graham, the audience can't fully fall under Graham's spell and sympathize completely with him. There are some gruesome scenes of people reacting to poison, but these are necessary to heighten the audience's horror at Graham's incapability to assess his own actions and to recognize his own evil. Ross gives us an entertaining, yet twisted, glimpse into genius gone wrong, without sensationalizing Graham as a hero.
It is also very hard to go out for drinks or coffee after seeing this movie.
As a boy, Graham was always keen on chemistry. When he is introduced to a
deadly chemical he begins to conduct experiments on his cruel family
namely by slowly poisoning his mother. Shortly after her death Graham is
caught for her murder and sentenced to a mental institution. With help and
treatment from a physiatrist, Graham is rehabilitated and released into the
community. But can his love of poison be controlled?
I first saw this in the cinema many years ago and held off writing a review because I wanted to be sure that I could give it a fair review memory not that great you know. So I watched it on channel 4 last week and was quite taken aback I didn't remember it being quite that dark and disturbed. The plot is quite like Kind Hearts & Coronets in the set up and delivery (more in the delivery) but is a lot darker and more cruel than that classic. The comedy is of the very dark type and mostly comes from Graham's narration. His narration plays his acceptance of very shocking events as run-of-the-mill things that happen in the background, this juxtaposition works well and makes it funny.
The actual poisonings are not always easy to laugh through, while some of his mother's ordeal is played for laughs, most of it is quite cruel and upsetting. I think it worked well for playing the audience on the fact that we didn't quite know what this was it was based on a true story yet was played for laughs as well as serious at times. However this same ploy is to it's weakness as it is difficult to settle into for this same reason. The director seems very assured and handles this better, mixing inappropriate music with the action as well as directing it very flat and clinically.
O'Conor is the perfect choice for the role. Onscreen he is cold and cruel but it is his narration is where he excels delivering perfectly deadpan lines. The support cast are all OK but mostly play exaggerated characters on the whole British stereotypes and such. The film wisely leaves them as undeveloped this because if we cared too much for them or related to them then it would have been impossible to feel anything but revulsion for Graham. As cardboard cutouts they seem less than Graham in terms of the film (wonder how the real victims' families felt about this view).
Overall this is a strange film but one that has enough going for it to be worht watching. However it should be noted that it is quite cruel and upsetting we are not allowed to feel anything for Graham's victims. The humour is rarely laugh out loud funny and this will probably only be for those who like their comedy very dark.
This is one sick, twisted movie. It's also a brilliant one. It's the true story of a young boy who tests his homemade poisons on his family, with terrible, yet successful results. Great performances, stylish camerawork, great dialogue. In a way it is a lot like Fargo, it's a true story turned into a quirky, riveting, twisted and original movie. 8/10.
I don't know what to make of it, honestly. When I first saw it (on late
night, and I stayed up till three AM watching it), I thought it was a little
like "A Clockwork Orange".
Graham Young (Hugh O'Conor) I found an odd mixture of three parts: curiosity (what leads him to poisoning), clinical detachment (as he watches the results), and a longing to belong (when he tries to be normal -and fails miserably).
First he silently threatens everyone with a gruesome retaliation for the slightest things, and then charts their decline with frightful accuracy as they get sicker and sicker. After that, he retreats into his den again until something better comes along. And then he gets caught.
Then there's that uproarious scene when he's out with a girl, and he tries to get her in a conversation on disembowelment. You can almost see her turn green as he gets into stride. To him, it's an innocent thing; something he likes. For her (and for us, the audience), it's...sick.
I thought that the rehabilitation sequence was a farce. It's as ludicrous as the rest of this quirky gem of a movie, with great performances by all the actors, particularly Hugh O'Conor. He says more with his eyes than most could with their lips.
I mean, the movie is funny (not ha ha funny, though), dripping with corrosive irony. Young is all at once twisted and innocent, torn between conforming and that endless fascination with poison. The comparisons between this and "Clockwork" are almost inevitable, but unlike Kubrick's thriller, this one has a more subtle, menacing tone, for the mind rather than for the eye. It's not a laugh-out-loud film, though it's undeniably hilarious. Whatever you feel, it's kept inside.
If you're one with a sensitive stomach, suicidal tendencies, strange addictions, goody-goodies/puritans, then stay away. Otherwise, WATCH THIS FILM!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a movie that I *wanted* to like. I just watched it for the
second time and my reaction remained the same: indifferent.
So we have this loose portrayal of Graham Young, a cold young man with a passion for poison. He poisons some family members, takes notes like a good scientist, prison, more poison, end.
I liked the look of the film, and the acting was adequate. But it just drags. It's not dark enough to be disturbing (In a Glass Cage),and there's not enough humor to be a good black comedy (such as 1995's To Die For). Mechanical dialogue. None of the characters felt fleshed out enough to support a 90 minute viewing experience; the shallow characterizations would be fine for, say, appearances in a brief flashback scene. But full length films usually require some characters that aren't so 2 dimensional.
A few nice moments, but I was disappointed.
One problem with this movie was that I wasn't sure whether I was allowed to laugh or not. It's a sick, black comedy, and quite disturbing given that it's based on truth. And yet it's strangely humourous. Hugh O'Conor is absolutely PERFECT in the role of Graham Young. As a longtime Hugh O'Conor fan, I will admit I may have been biased towards this film -- after all, I will enjoy his work in any movie -- but this movie was also well-acted by the entire cast. If you can stomach it, watch the film.
I truly love this film. The look on young Graham's face when he got his first chemistry set was probably like the one on my own when I got mine. Because I loved my family, I chose other areas of research and never experimented on them. That said, I found the humor in this black comedy right on target and I actually felt sorry for the young poisoner. If he had worked for Q branch he most likely would have received a knighthood rather than a prison sentence. I have no idea how close to the truth this movie is but it is on my top 20 films of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** one of the funniest movies i've ever seen, but funny in the same way that william burroughs thought that 'a clockwork orange' by anthony burgess was 'funny'. that is, so jaded and amoral that one can't help but drop all sentimentality and moral pretension and laugh one's behind off! our young anti hero is a chemistry major who decides to take vengeance on society (and his stepmother in particular) by unleashing his evil genius without worrying about those illusory trivialities, y'know, right and wrong. he is about as lovable as alex from 'clockwork' and i don't know if anyone cared when he killed himself at the end, but i sure didn't. this kid is a real nihilist, a nietzschean monster who takes delight in the suffering of others and who uses his abnormal and deviant intellect to satisfy his own power lust. there's something humorous about the scene where he arrives home and is nabbed by the cops; he looks with rage at the police officer who pounced on him and says something to the effect of, "that was the X-dose you f**king idiot, now you've ruined everything! everything!" he clearly has no sense of how just plain psycho he is, and in some depraved way his utter disregard for morality and other human beings is oddly hilarious. this is decidedly NOT a movie for sanctimonious or extramoral people, and if you're easily offended or disgusted by violence, don't touch it. but if you're like me and have a black-and postmodernist-humor thing goin on, don't rent it but BUY it!
I really enjoyed The Young Poisoner's Handbook. Some people made the comparison with A Clockwork Orange from Stanley Kubrick and I can get where they come from if they mean the same tune they play a couple of times and also the fact that when Graham Young is getting institutionalized one doctor tries to cure him from his demons but other then that those two movies are completely different. While A Clockwork Orange was about a young man against society using ultra violence this one is about a young smart apathetic guy poisoning everybody he dislikes. Plus the fact that this movie is based on a true story while Kubrick's masterpiece was just fictional makes it totally useless to compare both movies. Nevertheless I thought Tobias Arnold as Graham Young gave a good performance as well as the other actors. Certainly worth a watch.
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