The Young Poisoner's Handbook

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The Young Poisoner's Handbook
Directed byBenjamin Ross
Written by
Produced bySam Taylor
CinematographyHubert Taczanowski
Edited byAnne Sopel
Distributed byC/FP Distribution
Release date
  • 20 January 1995 (20 January 1995)
Running time
93 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
Box office$330,466[1]

The Young Poisoner's Handbook is a 1995 black comedy-drama film based on the life of Graham Young, more commonly known as "The Teacup Murderer". It was directed by Benjamin Ross and written by Ross and Jeff Rawle. The film stars Hugh O'Conor in the lead role.[2]


Graham Young has been obsessed with death and the macabre since childhood. He is highly intelligent, with an aptitude for chemistry. He also dreams of poisoning as many people as he can. In his teen years, he poisons a schoolmate—making him ill rather than killing him—in order to date a girl his schoolmate was seeing. His conversation with his date involves vivid, graphic descriptions of deadly car accidents. He also reads a comic book account of an event in which the Dutch Resistance killed a whole German army camp in the occupied Netherlands during the Second World War by poisoning their water supply with thallium.

Graham is arrested at the age of 14 outside his home in Neasden after poisoning his father and stepmother with thallium, killing his stepmother and leaving his father seriously ill. During the struggle with police, he drops his "Exit Dose" of thallium, which he intended to use to commit suicide should he be caught. He is hospitalised for nine years in an institution for the criminally insane, during which time a psychiatrist works with him in the hopes of rehabilitating him.

Graham's dishonesty becomes evident to the doctor, who can see that Graham is trying to deceive him. Graham apparently has no dreams to share with the psychiatrist so he "borrows" a fellow prisoner's dreams. This source is shut off to him, however, once the fellow prisoner commits suicide. Despite the initial evidence of Graham's deceitfulness, the doctor eventually gets him released.

Graham then goes to work in a camera factory and is shown the secret ingredient used in the company's shutter system—thallium. It is not long before Graham starts poisoning people again. He kills two of his workmates by poisoning their tea with thallium stolen from the laboratory, and makes many others ill. For months, the source of the "bug" afflicting the workers at the factory remains a mystery until one unforeseen event leads to Graham's being found out. As a hygiene measure, all the personalised teacups are replaced with uniform ones, leaving Graham unable to poison people selectively. His efforts to memorise which cup is going to which person give him away and his workmates finally realise what is going on.

Graham is arrested soon afterwards and he is later sentenced to a lengthy custodial term, this time in an ordinary prison. He commits suicide by poisoning himself with the "Newton's Diamond" he made in the psychiatric hospital.



On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Young Poisoner's Handbook has an approval rating of 87% based on 15 reviews.[3]

Roger Ebert awarded the film 3 and ½ stars out of four and praised O'Conor's performance. He wrote, "Benjamin Ross, who directed and co-wrote with Jeff Rawle, somehow finds the right tone for this material; the events in the movie are dismaying, but the effect is darkly comic. Not long ago...I observed that anything can be made funny, 'but humor depends on tone, timing and even on taste, and when a comedy starts on the wrong foot, it is hard to regain balance'...The Young Poisoner's Handbook is both funny and creepy, like an accident that is tragic and absurd at the same time (I am reminded of the famous Second City sketch in which mourners at a funeral discover that their friend drowned in a large can of pork and beans)."[4]


  1. ^ "The Young Poisoner's Handbook". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 18 January 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Young Poisoner's Handbook". BFI. Archived from the original on 5 August 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  3. ^ "The Young Poisoner's Handbook". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  4. ^ "The Young Poisoner's Handbook". 19 April 1996. Retrieved 4 July 2023.

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