Hysteria is a comedy-romance based on the invention of the first vibrator, which was created to cure the female-specific medical disorder known as ‘hysteria’. Directed by Tanya Wexler, the film is set in Victorian London and follows the life of a young doctor, Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), and his struggle for new age treatments in the medical world.
Mortimer finds it hard to keep down a job as he strives to implement new age medical treatments, which older doctors don’t believe in or agree with. He eventually lands a job working for Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who treats women with ‘hysteria’ by means of genital stimulation. Mortimer moves into the Dalrymple household, with Dr. Dalrymple and his daughter, Charlotte Dalrymple. He becomes a very popular doctor with the ladies, but overwhelmed by the physical exertion of the job, develops hand problems. He sets out to seek an alternate treatment method that isn’t so physically involved.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Charlotte Dalrymple, a feminist and suffragette, who is born into wealth, but opts for a life of helping the poor. Throughout the film she voices her opinions about gender equality, which is laughed upon during this era of obvious gender imbalance.
Charlotte’s sister, Emily Dalrymple (Felicity Jones), is the complete opposite to her; she is very much by the book in terms of social etiquette. After Mortimer Granville moves in, to help run her father’s medical practice, they become quite close and engaged due to the convenience of Mortimer taking over the practice. As the film progresses, it is evident that they are not truly in love and as he becomes friendlier with her sister, sparks begin to fly between Mortimer and Charlotte.
Rupert Everett plays the part of the wealthy, mad-scientist, Edmund St. John-Smythe, perfectly. He is witty, charming, carefree and compliments his over-analyzing sidekick (Granville) well. He invents the first vibrator prototype, a modified electric feather duster.
The character who provided the most laughs in the film was the prostitute turned housekeeper, Molly (Sheridan Smith). She was the first woman to take the vibrator for a test spin, and thereafter they dubbed it the ‘Jolly Molly’ in her honour.
If you are a fan of British humor, Hysteria does not disappoint. It is full of hilarious scenes and typical smutty jokes that are obvious in a film about vibrators. The film accurately displays the lack of control that women had over their own bodies and sexuality. Hysteria provides a good laugh and a historical account of medical knowledge in Victorian times, but is not something you would go see with your grandma, as the ‘genital stimulation’ scenes could be quite awkward!
By Shannon Wood
Hysteria opens in cinemas Thursday, July 12.