Poisoning appears to be the favourite method of extra-judicial killing by certain states and has reared its head in the news recently with the suspicious circumstances surrounding the fate of Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently in a coma.
In terms of popular culture, Game of Thrones brought poisoning back into public focus, racking up an impressive number of deaths (north of one hundred) throughout the show’s eight seasons, most notably Lady Olenna Tyrell and Lord Petyr Baelish’s crafty doing away with of the obnoxious young King Joffrey:
Real-life British poisoners have been covered by dramatisations, including ITV’s Dark Angel (Mary Ann Cotton) in 2016 and Harold Shipman: Doctor Death (2002).
And this year BBC1 enjoyed both ratings and critical success with a restrained three-part dramatization of the horrific events of 2018’s Salisbury Poisonings:
But what about the movies? Several recent films have featured plot lines where you’d better watch what you swallow…
Erin Brockovich (2000) – Amazon Prime/Netflix
Steven Soderbergh’s commercial break-out hit told the true story of Erin Brockovich, (portrayed by an Academy Award winning Julia Roberts), who successfully took on energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) over the Hinkley groundwater contamination in California, which lasted an incredible 14 years (1952-66).
Albert Finney steals the show as Brockovich’s grouchy-but-heart-of-gold boss, lawyer Edward L. Masry, despite his occasionally shaky American accent.
If you like the movie, you may want to catch last year’s Mark Ruffalo legal drama Dark Waters, which concerns a similar real-life case to Hinkley:
Ghost Ship (2002) – Amazon Prime
Heist-meets-action thriller-meets chiller in this occasionally scary maritime story, where a salvage crew are drawn to the decades-lost cruise ship Antonia Graza, said to be laden with stolen Nazi gold.
No prizes for guessing that things don’t work out according to the salvagers’ plan – the passengers shades have lingered after being murdered via mass poisoning, shooting, and other methods.
A strong cast includes Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, Ron Eldard, Isaiah Washington, and Karl Urban.
Crank (2006) – Amazon Rent/Buy
I could be wrong, but I suspect that Spectator Life readers are possibly not the biggest fans of the oeuvre of Jason Statham, but they may be missing out in this case.
‘The Stath’ plays expat Brit hitman Chev Chelios, who comes a cropper when dosed with ‘synthetic Chinese sh*t’ which slows his heart down to a fatal extent unless he can pump his adrenaline up to extreme levels, which will briefly stave death off.
Which of course Chev does, ingesting vast quantities of coke, picking random fights, indulging in reckless driving /motorcycling, injecting epinephrine, beating up police, and having public sex with his girlfriend.
The Orphanage (2007)
Spanish filmmaker J. A. Bayona’s chiller eschews cheap scares to deliver a satisfying supernatural tale, one which paid off in terms of both box office and the critics.
The unquiet spirits of poisoned children haunt the orphanage of the movie’s title, in a picture that recalls some of the best work of Bayona’s friend and Orphanage executive producer, director Guillermo del Toro – as well as Jack Clayton’s classic British supernatural picture The Innocents (1961).
Spy (2015) – Netflix
Paul (Bridesmaids) Feig’s terrific undercover secret service comedy is jam-packed with quotable dialogue, and one particularly nasty poisoning scene; watch out for the dissolving throat…
And for those unconvinced by my advocacy of the work of Jason Statham, look out for his comic chops on display as Brit spy (presumably on loan to the US) Rick Ford.
The Hateful Eight (2015) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Tarantino’s one-set Western Whodunnit/Willdoit includes this truly stomach-churning scene where Kurt Russell’s bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth and stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks) ingest some poisoned coffee:
The Beguiled (2017) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a remake of the 1971 atypical Clint Eastwood Southern Gothic story of Union army deserter Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) taking shelter in a Virginia girls’ school, where the students’ interest in the soldier takes an unexpected turn.
Echoes of Misery (1990) in Farrell’s eventual situation until he succumbs to death by poisoned mushrooms.
Like the recent TV series version of 1975’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, Coppola’s remake is not entirely necessary, but is well worth checking out.
Knives Out (2019) – Amazon Prime
Director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) channels Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s wonderful Sleuth (1972) in this astringent whodunnit, with a twisty but implausible storyline and a cast of almost uniformly nasty characters, played by an all-star company.
The supposed suicide of acclaimed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) sees strangely accented private dick Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) called in to investigate.