THE YOUNG POISONER'S HANDBOOK is a wickedly funny black comedy
that is inspired by a real mass murderer, but is a fictionalized story.
The movie takes place in the 1960s in England. On a black comedy
scale, this show is much darker than the classic HAROLD AND MAUDE.
Here have 14 year old Graham Young (Hugh O'Conor) who is a scientific
wizard and inventor who loves to spend his time with his test tubes.
The problem is that his specialty is poisons, and he eventually decides
that, "I want to be the greatest poisoner the world has ever seen."
Two minutes into the film with the eclectic sets (Maria Djurkovic)
plus the wide eyed expressions on Graham's face, and you know this show
is going to be great. The film is a mixture of macabre and great
comedy. It has a strongly developed plot and script (Jeff Rawle and
Benjamin Ross) that races along and yet that are many humorous side
Graham gets kicked out of the library for attempting to get
forbidden books on poison, but a librarian helps him out. She turns
out to like to stamp the guys she picks up with the library stamp. In
one scene, he stops reading his poison books, and he and a friend show
each other exactly where she has stamped them. From the position of
his friend's stamp, he realizes that his friend is clearly in the lead
with her. He eliminates this competition by trying out his first batch
of poison on him. Poison makes you vomit, and all the vomiting scenes
in the show are too realistic for my taste.
Graham lives with his father Fred (Roger Lloyd Pack), stepmother
Molly (Ruth Sheen) and sister Winnie (Charlotte Coleman). One day, his
stepmother finds dirty magazines in the house so she forces him to take
a bath while she scrubs furiously, saying, "You contaminate everything
you touch. I'm going to scrub you till you are raw." After that, he
decides he is going to kill her. He declares, "I had decided the
direction my scientific career was to take and there could be no
Eventually, Graham winds up in Harshhurst, which is a hospital for
the criminally insane. He continues to be devious and worms his way
into being treated by the famous psychotherapist Dr. Ernst Ziegler
(Antony Sher) since if Dr. Ziegler says Graham is cured, he can get
out. This section of the movie is as fascinating as that of the
family. The movie ends with yet another section even more involving.
Although there is an excellent supporting cast, I think the performance
by Hugh O'Conor is outstanding and outshines all the others. He can do
more with his eyes that most actors can do in ten pages of dialog.
The director (Benjamin Ross) is in absolute control. The film has
a strong presence, and moves with an energy and fluidity that is a
marvel to watch. The cinematographic images by Hubert Taczanowski
added to the strangeness of the experience. He is great at close-ups
of inanimate objects and at zooming in unexpectedly on his subjects.
The lighting has faces with deep shadow on one side and the harsh
incandescent glow of cheap bulbs on the other. There is an abundance
of music (Robert Lane and Frank Strobel) in the show and has just the
right blend of deviousness. One time trumpets will wail and the next
time chimes will ring. The instruments change but the strange rhythms
keep flowing. This is consistent with a movie that has a highly
developed mood. The show is a cornucopia of effective cinematic
elements. A tour de force and a fascinating story.
THE YOUNG POISONER'S HANDBOOK runs a quick 1:39 thanks to fast
paced editing by Anne Sopel. It is not rated, but would probably get
an R. It has a little bad language, no sex, nudity only in pictures,
but some scenes are quite horrific and can be hard to watch. These
include the vomit ones, the ones of his mother bleeding at the mouth
while brushing her teeth, people's hair falling out, people being
poisoned and getting very sick, etc. These scenes do not occur very
often, but they are there and essential to the blackness of the comedy.
This show should be fine for most teenagers, although I would, of
course, hope they do not plan to make their own handbooks after seeing
the film. If you like black comedies, I strongly recommend this one to
you and give it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes