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. He first tries to make a diamond, but when that fails, he turns to darker obsessions... he vows to become a successful poisoner. Which is where he succeeds.
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). 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.
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. 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.
A caustic streak of black comedy runs through the film, with its use of cheery pop records of the time contrasting with scenes of victims 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? The theme seems to be that no matter how you try to understand evil, as Anthony Sher's 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.
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.