In Victorian London, young Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), struggles to establish himself. He is hired by Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) to investigate treatments for women diagnosed with female hysteria using 'pelvic massage'. The doctor's two daughters, fiery suffragette and social worker Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and sweet domesticated Emily (Felicity Jones) are both appealing in their different ways. Dr. Granville becomes an expert in the unique treatment of women, which is seen in purely medical germs, since women can't feel sexual pleasure. When he develops RSI in his wrist due to all the manual labor required in stimulating women to orgasm, he is keen to find an alternative. Which is when he stumbles upon the latest invention of his eccentric wealthy benefactor, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) - the hand held electric feather duster. Mortimer adapts it into the forerunner of the vibrator. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
Without intending to sound flippant, there is much to titillate in this delicately drawn tale about the origins of the vibrator as the world's most popular sex toy. Just as a good striptease starts with a tease and good sex begins with foreplay, the story is told with restraint, allowing its demure Victorian setting and sensibilities to act as a perfect counterpoint to its orgasmic centre. Played as a comedy of errors, the film is set in an era when the telephone is new, the suffragette movement is gathering steam and Hysteria , the growing women's epidemic termed 'the plague of the time', strikes women whose varied symptoms include nymphomania, melancholia and impertinence.
Not surprisingly, the waiting rooms of the practice of the esteemed and successful Dr Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose treatment to relieve the female uterus to the point of paroxysm is effected by the internal pressure and rubbing of the hand, are overflowing with smiling patients, eager to make their next appointment. The words orgasm or sexual pleasure are never spoken in the same breath as paroxysm of course, but when the dedicated, caring doctor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is hired to help Dr Dalrymple in his 'tedious, tiring work', he becomes the catalyst for change.
In the film's opening scenes, Dr Granville's character is firmly established as he stands up for his beliefs and patients, and finds himself unemployed as a result. The opportunity to work with Dr Dalrymple to pleasure discontented women initially feels like a godsend; beyond its financial benefits, his picture perfect daughter Emily (Felicity Jones), who is committed to doing her duty, is part of the package. When Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte, the liberated, headstrong black sheep of the family dedicated to running a welfare shelter, bursts onto the screen, she brings with her the spark of authenticity. Gyllenhaal brings that spark every time we see her onscreen; who can forget her in Steven Shainberg's erotic Secretary (2002) opposite James Spader's fettish-loving boss?
The romance between Dr Granville and Charlotte predictably runs less than smoothly, although like Bridget Jones and Mr Darcy, their future is never in doubt. Sheridan Smith as the titan-haired prostitute-turned maid called Molly The Lolly is good value and Rupert Everett's eccentric inventor and benefactor Edmund St. John-Smythe is a hoot; it is his novel electric feather duster invention that triggers the idea that Granville's mind develops into a vibrator. The progress through the decades for this esteemed gadget is depicted humorously in the closing credits.
The film's tongue-in-cheek tone is declared from the very beginning as it delivers laughs, chuckles and an uplifting mood in what is ultimately an intriguing tale.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The last era you'd expect to discover as the time of the vibrator's invention is 1880s England, a time of such ignorance about women that it was thought impossible for women to enjoy sexual pleasure. So much so that our hero, Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), spends his entire days at work stimulating women's clitori as a medical treatment. This extraordinary state of male ignorance - also the consensus view of the medical profession - was buried in the chauvinistic mind frame that denied women so many rights.
The film deals with this feminist issue through Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who works in the poorest London community as a social worker, trying to prise money our of her rich father, Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) to support the poor and hungry residents of a refuge. But Dalrymple is an old fashioned misogynist and conservative who thinks Charlotte should come to her senses.
Into this environment comes the young Dr. Granville, desperate for work, having shunned the offer of a fat cheque from his wealthy benefactor, the eccentric aristocrat and inventor Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), who came to his financial rescue after the death of Granville's parents when he was young.
Dr. Dalrymple is busy treating women for hysteria, that catch-all condition the Victorians thought made women behave erratically and had something to do with the uterus. He needed a second pair of hands, and Dr. Granville obliged. Until his wrist seized up from all that private massaging.
There is humorous potential in the material, granted, but the filmmakers are too eager to pump these possibilities and the result is a movie length sit-com. Dancy is all Hugh Grant-ish as Dr. Granville, and the women patients all overact while being treated. Oh don't worry, it's all very tastefully done - or at least discreetly - and played for laughs. I suppose that's inevitable, but it leaves all the heavy emotional lifting to Maggie Gyllenhaal as just about the only sincere and decent and interesting character on screen. (The other fun character is Sheridan Smith's wicked ex-hooker known as Molly the Lolly, for reasons she demonstrates with tongue in cheek ...)
Carefully composed images, excellent period costumes and a nice, frilly score decorate the film to such an extent it becomes wholesome and staid. Still, it's an interesting sidebar of medical history which explains how the vibrator came into being (as it were).
Published November 21, 2012
Email this article
HYSTERIA: DVD (PG)
CAST: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Gemma Jones
PRODUCER: Tracey Becker, Judy Cairo, Sarah Curtis,
DIRECTOR: Tanya Wexler
SCRIPT: Stephen Dyer, Jonah Lisa Dyer (story by Howard Gensler)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sean Bobbitt
EDITOR: Jon Gregory
MUSIC: Gast Waltzing
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sophie Becher
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 12, 2012
SPECIAL FEATURES: .
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
DVD RELEASE: November 21, 2012