Young Poisoner’s Handbook, The

Director: Benjamin Ross

Benjamin Ross’ darkly comic The Young Poisoner’s Handbook is by far the best of a recent crop of new wave British films. Indeed, there hasn’t been a more startling debut by an English director since Bruce Robinson’s surprised us with Withnail and I ten years ago. Like Robinson’s brilliiant black comedy (soon to be re-released), Young Poisoner is set in the 60’s, but the main influences of Ross’ take on suburban psychopathology would appear to be the darker ealing comedies (Kind Heart and Coronets in particular) and classic TV sitcoms.
Based on real crime case documented in Anthony Holden’s book The St. Albans Poisoner, the film is set in surburban London in the early 60’s, where 14 yearl old Graham Young escapes from his family’s petty domestic squabbling by immersing himself in scientific literature and experimenting with his chemistry set. The wide eyed, seemingly innocent Graham, who the fiamily think of as alittle Louis Pasteur, is in fact fascinated by toxic substances, which he begins to use on people who cross him. Eventually discovered and sent to a mental hospital for the criminalloy insane, Graham is treated by the sympathetic Dr. Zeighler (Anthony Page). Released eight years later, Graham gets a job at a laboratory and can’t resist lacing his colleagues tea with thallium.
Brilliantly played by Irish actor Hugh O’Conor, Graham is protrayed not as a serial killer with a traumatised past but as a rahter endearing swot whose obsession with science causes him to view people as human guinea-pigs. Ironically, Graham’s problem has to do with a lack of trauma, a point missed by the psychiatrist who is outsmarted by his patient. Graham’s fantasy is to become a world famous toxicologist and he’s so fascinated by toxic substances that he has few qualms about using family and friends as a ‘control group’. The film adopts a wonderfully droll view of Graham and his victims, lampooning English social institutions and walking a clever tightrope between tragedy, comedy and horror.

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