A fucking masterpiece. There are no words to explain the complexity of the events unfolding in The Young Poisoner’s Handbook and with what simplicity those events are portrayed to us, viewers. But I will try to find some as this is one of my favorite movies. I caught it one rainy day just as it was getting dark. By the time it finished, the night has set and I was still struggling to get back to “normal life”. Incredibly immersive but so masterfully blended with black humor, this is one of those movies that you’ll remember. The contrast between the depressive setting, Graham’s passion, and his horrific acts is compelling. Now imagine that with a quirky atmosphere. You can’t can you? This is the reason why you simply must check out this movie.
The story is loosely based on true events which is not surprising. In fact, I am still fucking wondering how did they get away with such a vibrant and almost jubilant tone of the movie. It reminded me of another great British movie based on true events Stuart: A Life Backwards. Both of them are excellent character studies exploring complex subjects with nuance and clarity. And they are very easy to watch. I mean, The Young Poisoner’s Handbook just flows like a river with an intriguing story and powerful performances. It’s also visually impressive with creative camerawork and snappy editing adding to that pitch-perfect pacing.
It’s the early sixties in the dreary urban English setting. Graham Young, a bit odd but highly intelligent strapping young lad just found his calling. He’s incredibly interested in chemistry, especially in poisons and their effects. This interest will soon prove to be fatal as he moves in with his aunt and uncle…
We follow Graham from an early age as he developing into a man that will become to be known as Teacup Poisoner and later the St. Albans Poisoner. You can see his lack of moral values and the environment struggling to put him on the right path. All this opens a discussion of whether there was ever a choice or an option for him to develop into a relatively normal person.
Just as with any serial killer movie we will have an opportunity to peer into the mind of a man who lacks a conscience. This will provide a lot of intense, suspenseful, and unsettling scenes. Especially since there’s a running narration from Graham himself detailing his stream of thought. The honesty and perverse nature of these thoughts juxtaposed to the overall tone of the movie is glorious. I remember how I kept repeating some of the dialogue for years to come. One scene in particular stayed with me, the one Graham in charge of bringing everyone their tea. Graham, Edna, Debra, Darcy, Mark, Simon, Ron and Tom. Once again: Graham, Edna, Debra, Darcy, Mark, Simon, Ron and Tom.
I cannot praise enough Hugh O’Conors’ performance here. He was simply mesmerizing along with the rest of the cast. There are so many scenes that I still remember vividly, almost fifteen years later and I think I will always remember them. As an outsider, interested in the macabre, bizarre, and ultimately subversive behavior I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The Young Poisoner’s Handbook is a perfect movie to show someone you want to convince of your edginess and dark sense of humor. I know I sure pestered people with it for years.
Finally, one last tidbit about this masterpiece that might freak you out even more. In 2005, a Japanese girl was arrested after a poisoning incident. She led an online blog similar to Graham’s diary and cites this movie as a source of inspiration for her crime. You can read more about her case in this BBC article Ruling on Japan poison-diary girl. I will also leave a link for Graham Young’s wiki page below but I recommend you check it out only after you’ve seen the movie to avoid any spoilers.
Director: Benjamin Ross
Writers: Jeff Rawle, Benjamin Ross
Cast: Ruth Sheen, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Hugh O’Conor, Norman Caro, Dorothea Alexander, Paul Stacey