What happens when a psychopath is initially more sinned against than sinning? This is the case with Graham Young (Hugh O’Conor) of the U.K. in The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, from 1995. A crazy injustice is done to Graham by his stepmother (Ruth Sheen, terrific), after which the boy chemist poisons her among others. Thallium, in fact, becomes Graham’s summum bonum.

Taking the true story of a teenaged killer, Benjamin Ross, director and co-writer, and Jeff Rawle, co-writer, concoct for the screen a jaunty, comic assault on the human race. The mental institution where Graham is confined houses men who are, in the words of the institution’s director, “moral imbeciles to a man.” This includes Graham, but not quite most of the other characters who are nevertheless cynical, rude, patronizing—and unjust. With great persuasiveness Antony Sher enacts the reasonable psychiatrist who treats Graham, but the therapeutic culture in this canny film founders. Dysfunction dominates.

(All reviews are by Earl Dean)