THE YOUNG POISONERS HANDBOOK
The film is certainly uneven. It passes through several very different tones. The first third of it is a joyous black comedy with Hugh OConor poisoning his way through his family. Then the film suddenly changes into a very earnest and even moving story about the redemption of a murderer through psychotherapy. Then it goes off on a different tack altogether as the released OConor starts poisoning his way through the people at work although this is different in tone to the gleeful blackness of the earlier poisonings. There are times when these abrupt changes of tone leave one never sure where the film is heading. Nor is one ever sure which parts of the film director Benjamin Ross is interested in for example, in the first third, he takes joyous glee in the poisoning of the family, yet we never see the collapse of the mother, while the poisoning and death of the father takes place entirely off-screen.
Nevertheless, the disparate parts add to a satisfying whole. The black comedy is genuinely funny at times, especially Benjamin Rosss evocation of the sheer banality of working class life in 1960s Britain and the casual ways in which Hugh OConor manages to introduce poisons to his victims. The therapeutic transformation that comes in the middle section is surprisingly heartfelt and Anthony Shers performance here is very good.
Of course, the film would be nothing without the central presence of the wonderful Hugh OConor. He gives a remarkably creepy performance, his eyes radiating a piercing intensity, yet also counters the performance with a perfect politeness with often hilarious results. One wishes that Hugh OConor would appear on screen again but apart from playing the nervous young priest in Chocolat (2000), one has yet to see him in anything else.
Benjamin Ross has only sporadically continued to work on film. He did make the tv movie RKO 281 (1999) about Orson Welles and the making of Citizen Kane (1941). He returned to genre material as creator, writer and director of the British tv series The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015 ) about the investigation into a series of Frankenstein-like murders set in the aftermath of the writing of Frankenstein (1816).
(Nominee for Best Actor (Hugh OConor) at this sites Best of 1995 Awards).