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Film / The Young Poisoner's Handbook

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The Young Poisoner's Handbook is a 1995 British-German-French-produced black comedy film based on the life of Graham Young, more commonly known as "The Teacup Poisoner", an English Serial Killer who poisoned family, school friends and co-workers, killing at least three of them, before his incarceration in 1972. It was directed by Benjamin Ross and written by Ross and Jeff Rawle. The film stars Hugh O'Conor in the lead role.

14-year-old Graham Young is highly intelligent, but completely amoral. He becomes interested in science, especially chemistry, and begins to read avidly. Something of a social misfit, he is fascinated by morbid subjects such as poisons and murder. His family environment is intolerable to him and, in particular, his stepmother torments him. He decides to poison those who annoy him, first with antimony and later with thallium. He smugly thinks himself cleverer than all those around him, but nevertheless he is caught and sentenced to 'rehabilitation' at a psychiatric institution. Once there, he undertakes to deceive the new eminent psychiatrist sent there to 'cure' him, thereby securing his release.


  • Artistic License – Chemistry: The toxicology in this film is excellent, but the so-called 'Newton's Diamond' Graham is obsessed with is a fabrication created for plot purposes. It is not possible to form a clear crystal out of antimony.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Graham attempts this twice; both times without success. When he is first arrested, he tries to take his "Exit Dose" of thallium, but drops the vial when he trips over a wall while running from the police. When his plan to poison all of his workmates at the camera factory fails, he grabs one of the poisoned mugs of tea (although it is doubtful even he knew which mugs were poisoned by this stage) and quickly downs it all. It does make him sick, but is not enough to kill him.
  • Book Burning: After discovering a Porn Stash hidden in Winnie's room, Molly aggressively bathes Graham to wash the 'filth' off him, and makes him stand in the backyard—wet, shivering and naked save for a blanket—and watch as she burns all of the magazines. She then tops it off by throwing his beloved chemistry set on the bonfire as well. All the time, Graham denies that the stash is his (and internal evidence indicates that it may well have belonged to his father).
  • Brits Love Tea: In a terribly British fashion, Graham attempts to murder his workmates by poisoning their tea mugs during the factory tea breaks.
  • Bungled Suicide: After Berridge kills himself and Dr. Zeigler drops him from his rehabilitation program, Graham attempts to hang himself with a bed sheet but fails.
  • The Can Kicked Him: Graham has a nightmare where he is throwing up into the toilet and his dead stepmother rises up out of the bowl, grabs his head and drags him in headfirst. This was actually one of Berridge's nightmares that Graham and claimed as his own to Dr. Zeigler, which he is now experiencing for real
  • Catapult Nightmare: Happens when Berridge wakes up screaming in his cell. More realistic than most examples as his sitting up wasn't a reaction to the nightmare, but rather to an outside stimulus: Graham shaking his shoulder in an attempt to wake him.
  • Child Prodigy: Graham is a poisons expert by the age of 14. However, he's also an expert poisoner by the same age.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Dr. Zeigler happens to walking past the inmates' rec room at precisely the right moment to see footage of Graham being arrested on the news.
  • Cyanide Pill: Graham carries an "Exit Dose": a vial of thallium to commit suicide if he is caught. However, he drops it when he trips over a fence while trying to escape the police, and is tackled by a bobby before he grab it again.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Graham's standard response to anyone who annoys him is to poison them with heavy metals. This includes a friend who is dating the same girl as him; the girl in question (although she avoids eating the chocolates); a bullying supervisor; and a co-worker who suggests he's gay. Worried about his sister spying on him, he doctors her mascara with something that temporarily blinds her, and possibly permanently costs her the sight in one eye.
  • Driven to Suicide: Berridge hangs himself with a bedsheet in the cell he shares with Graham after being driven to suicide by his guilt over his actions and (most likely) the stress of Graham waking him every hour to ask about his dreams (It Makes Sense in Context). At the end of the film, Graham kills himself in his prison cell using the antimony 'Newton's Diamond' he had concealed in his ring.
  • Education Through Pyrotechnics: While attempting to make a 'Newton's Diamond' with antimony sulfate, he blows up his chemistry set.
  • Eye Scream: Graham taints his sister Winnie's mascara with poison, causing her to lose an eye.
  • Fame Through Infamy: Graham begins poisoning all of his coworkers just for minor annoyances, killing two and injuring dozens more, before revealing that he will eventually try to kill all of them in one go in his bid to be remembered for eternity.
  • Hanging Around: After Berridge kills himself and Dr. Zeigler drops him from his rehabilitation program, Graham attempts to hang himself with a bed sheet but fails.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: When Graham's stepmother notices an odd taste and smell in her tea, the cup is passed along the family who variously compare it to ammonia, brake fluid and cat's piss.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Graham himself ends up getting sick after drinking one of his poisoned teas.
  • Love Triangle: Graham discovers he and his school friend are in love with the same girl. Graham's solution is to poison his friend so he can go on the date with her instead.
  • Medication Tampering: Graham spikes his stepmother's stomach medication: first with antimony and later with thallium.
  • Master Poisoner: Graham is obsessed with poisons and spends his time perfecting his art.
  • Memento MacGuffin: When Molly is dying (because she is being poisoned by Graham), she gives her stepson Graham his mother's ring. At the time, this act does no more than mark Molly as genuinely nice person, and one who does not deserve her fate. Years later, Graham has been convicted and is prison serving multiple life sentences for his murders. In his cell, he picks up the box containing the ring, opens it, and spends some time staring at it. The viewer then discovers that he has replaced the diamond in the ring with the 'Newton's Diamond' made of antimony, which he uses to commit suicide.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The film opens with Graham as young boy, as his narration explains how he developed a fascination for science, and chemistry in particular, at young age. If flashes forward to him at 14, where the story really starts.
  • Perfect Poison: Thalium is presented in the film as this. It is odourless and tasteless. Aside from the victims losing some hair, their bodies all react differently when poisoned with it, and the symptoms could be those of a multitude of different ailments.
  • Porn Stash: Graham comes home to be berated by his stepmother who literally throws a stack of girly mags in his face. Graham keeps denying they are his, and his father's reaction indicates that it might actually be his stash, but Molly forces Graham into the bath, harshly scrubs him with a scrubbing brush, and then makes him stand naked in the backyard—wrapped only in a thin blanket—and watch while she burns the magazines and his beloved chemistry set.
  • Recurring Dreams: Berridge has recurring nightmares related to his guilt over murdering his parents. The viewer learns what some of these dreams are when Graham writes them down and presents them to Dr. Zeigler as his own nightmares, and they are quite disturbing.
  • Scary Surprise Party: John receives a note asking him to come to stores. When he arrives, stores is empty. He calls out and someone turns off all the lights. Just as the viewer is thinking that Graham may be planning to extract an uncharacteristic 'hands-on' vengeance on John, candles are lit on a cake and John's co-workers jump out yelling "Surprise!" Unfortunately for those attending, however, Graham made the cake...
  • Self-Made Orphan: Graham kills his stepmother by poisoning her with thallium, and is in process of killing his father the same way when he is arrested.
    • Berridge, Graham's cellmate at the insane asylum, is a young soldier who snapped while home on leave and murdered both his parents.
  • Serial Killer: Graham is a serial poisoner who keeps a detailed diary noting the doses he has administered, their effects, and whether he is going to allow each person to live or die. Based on the Real Life serial killer Graham Young.
  • Shout-Out: There are a few to A Clockwork Orange, such as when Graham gets the attention of an official while the inmates are all lined up. Like the Kubrick movie, this film also uses Purcell's music for the funeral of Queen Mary.
  • The '60s: When Graham begins his poisoning spree. By the time he is released from the psychiatric hospital, it's The '70s.
  • Spanner in the Works: Graham's final mass poisoning attempt falls apart because management replaces the staff's individual mugs with a new set of identical ones, and Graham cannot keep track of whose mug is whose. And the irony here? Management got rid of the old mugs because Graham's previous poisonings made them think there was an infectious agent in the factory, and they were getting rid of possible sources.
  • Stealing from the Till: Graham steals thallium from the lab and uses it to poison his co-workers.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: This is Graham's standard M.O.: poisoning food and drink. Tea is his most common medium, but he also uses sandwiches, chocolates, pickles, beer, etc.
  • Taught by Television: Graham discovers the properties of thallium as a poison by reading about it in a comic book.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The opening disclaimer makes it clear that this is not a Biopic, but a rather a story inspired by the life and crimes of Graham Young. As such, it does diverge from Young's real story in a few areas.
  • Villain Protagonist: The film follows the rise and fall of Graham Young: a teenager obsessed with killing as many people with poison as he can.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: After being poisoned at his birthday party, John throws up down Debra's cleavage.