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

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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.

production details
UK | 99 minutes | 1995

Director: Benjamin Ross
Writers: Jeff Rawle, Benjamin Ross

cast
Antony Sher as Dr. Ernest Zeigler
Simon Kunz as John
Hugh O’Conor as Graham Young
Ruth Sheen as Molly
Roger Lloyd Pack as Fred
Charlotte Coleman as Winnie
Tobias Arnold as Young Graham
Norman Caro as Mr. Goez
Dorothea Alexander as Mrs. Goez
Paul Stacey as Dennis
Samantha Edmonds as Sue
Robert Demeger as Mr. Dexter
Jack Deam as Mick
Peter Pacey as Dickie Boone
Joost Siedhoff as Dr. Scott
Vilma Hollingbery as Aunty Panty
Frank Mills as Uncle Jack
Rupert Farley as Nurse Trent
Malcolm Sinclair as Dr. Triefus
Charlie Creed-Miles as Berridge
Hazel Douglas as Edna
Arthur Cox as Ray
John Thomson as Nathan
Jean Warren as Debra Smart
Frank Coda as Billy
Tim Potter as Simon
Cate Fowler as Social Services Woman
John Abbott as Chairman

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