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  Young Poisoner's Handbook, The Somebody Put Something In My Drink
Year: 1995
Director: Benjamin Ross
Stars: Hugh O'Conor, Antony Sher, Charlotte Coleman, Ruth Sheen, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Paul Stacey, Samantha Edmonds, Malcolm Sinclair, Charlie Creed-Miles, John Thomson, Peter Pacey, Hazel Douglas, Arthur Cox, Simon Kunz, Tim Potter, Malcolm Sinclair, Jack Deam
Genre: Comedy, Drama, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the early sixties, teenage Graham Young (Hugh O'Conor) lives with his father, stepmother and sister in a quiet English suburb; yet Graham has big plans inspired by his interest in chemistry, triggered by a present of a toy set to experiment with. He first tries to make a diamond, but when that ambition tantalisingly fails, he turns to far darker, more destructive obsessions... he vows to become a successful poisoner. Which is where he succeeds all too well.

This morbid true crime story was scripted by Jeff Rawle and director Benjamin Ross, based on the case of St Albans poisoner Young - he's from Neasden in the film, but this did not prevent a degree of controversy on its initial release, and indeed later on, as it was accused of glorifying a highly unpleasant individual whom for some reason his name the screenplay retained. The screenplay owes something to A Clockwork Orange, notably its teenage protagonist's crime spree which results in his being imprisoned, which in turn leads to his case of rehabilitation under trendy new techniques (here, dream therapy). But a leopard can't change his spots, as someone observes, and events broadly follow the path of his two spates of interrupted crime in real life.

The story is told very much from Young's point of view, with all the characters except him being depicted in a patronising, caricatured manner, and his dispassionate case study voiceover guiding us through his thoughts. Its setting in downmarket but aspirant surroundings means the film makers never miss an opportunity to cast a cynical eye over the times - no rosy nostalgia here, despite the plethora of oldies on the soundtrack, both from the sixties and seventies, per the two periods when Young was on the loose to wreak his mayhem. The supporting cast featured a number of faces well known to British viewers from television, notably Charlotte Coleman as Young's sister who is permanently scarred by his endeavours.

In the title role, O'Conor is blankly polite and carries an air of innocence that belies his real feelings, which are only betrayed by his scientific fascination in unpleasant areas such as death - he's like a mad doctor in an old horror movie, reasonable only to himself, yet unsettlingly, we are invited to understand precisely why he would have regarded himself as judge, jury and executioner towards a collection of painfully ordinary, even unimaginative, people who he would encounter every day - in his family or later, at his workplace in a camera equipment manufacturers. Understandably, when this was released to British cinemas the survivors and relatives of the deceased were up in arms, which led to it being banned in some places, and to this day remains extremely difficult to get hold of in any form, probably for reasons of the film's tonal insensitivity.

Imagine filming a comedy about any notorious real life murderer and you can see why. A caustic streak of black comedy runs through the film, with its use of those cheery, at times cheesy pop records of the time contrasting with scenes of victims vomitously feeling the effects of the poison. Young's reasons are never entirely clear: his upbringing is no different from millions of other British people, so what has turned him to evil? Is it his antagonistic family? What inspires his ambitions of notoriety? Why does he insist on looking down on everyone else from a great height, and how does he manage to keep his real feelings secret, all the better to succeed at his villainy? The real Young was drawn to the Nazis of World War II, which would explain his belief he was justified as some kind of death-dealing ubermensch, but you do not get much of that motive here. The theme seems to be that no matter how you try to understand evil, as Antony Sher's uselessly liberal-minded doctor does, you have to accept that some people are born bad. And there's no cure for that. Also with: the least enticing office party ever put on film. Music by Robert Lane and Frank Strobel.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Benjamin Ross  (1964 - )

British director who worked with writer Jeff Rawle on The Young Poisoner's Handbook, which they followed up with Who Goes There? In between, Ross directed TV movie RKO 281, about the making of Citizen Kane.

 
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