Young Poisoner’s Handbook, The (1994 with Hugh O’Connor and Antony Sher)

UK / 1994

Director: Benjamin Ross
Writers: Jeff Rawle, Benjamin Ross

Cast: Hugh O’Conor, Ruth Sheen, Antony Sher, Roger Lloyd Pack, Charlotte Coleman, Paul Stacey, Samantha Edmonds, Vilma Hollingberry, Jack Deam, Frank Mills, Charlie Creed-Miles, Arthur Cox, John Thomson

Always absorbed by chemistry, Graham Young begins his experiments with poisoning at 14 when he takes revenge on a girl-chasing rival. Undetected, he introduces poisons into the food and medicines of the members of his family, leading to the death of his neurotic stepmother, Molly. Eventually he is committed to an asylum where a psychiatrist investigates his dreams. Out on parole, Young works at a photo lab where he soon despatches some of his fellow workers. He is re-committed and poisons himself.

Graham Young’s was a true story and, though he may not have become enshrined as “the greatest poisoner the world has ever seen”, which is what he hoped (or at least the movie proposes that he hoped), he certainly justifies his 15 minutes of fame and his 100 minutes of screen biography.

The film – an auspicious debut by director Benjamin Ross – places its tale in the kind of heightened reality that Joe Orton deployed in his plays and much black comedy has honed over the years. The style may owe more to the sidelong comedy of an American cult movie like Harold and Maude than, say, the Ealing comedy tradition, murderous though that vein of English humour frequently was.

Ross wrote the script with the actor Jeff Rawle ( Billy Liar , Drop the Dead Donkey ). It’s more speculative than strictly biographical and it perhaps loses its way a little when considering Young’s dreams and Dr Zeigler’s interest in them. Both film and subject is an English original.

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