Hysteria directed by Tanya Wexler is an offbeat, mischievous romantic comedy set in Victorian England during 1880, a time when germs were thought by most to be a mere myth, people pondered whether an invention like the telephone would ever take off and any problem a women should have from insomnia to disturbing thoughts was attributed to the catch-all ailment of ‘Hysteria’. The film tells the story how the invention that is known today as the vibrator came about.
From the outset of the film the words appearing on screen “Based on a true story, really” establish the films lighthearted nature. It follows Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) an idealistic young doctor with modern ideas who takes a position in the office of Dr Robert Dalyrmple (Jonathon Pryce) who runs a clinic for women, specialising in a particular “intimate massage” type treatment to cure the highly common “disease” of hysteria.
Mortimer quickly becomes popular among his patients who feel ever so much better after their treatment, however soon Mortimer’s hands become strained. His inventor friend the impressive and wealthy Edmund St John Smythe (a role Rupert Everett was born to play) suggests an alternative; an electric massager. But will the treatment have the same effect using this device?
A romantic twist furthers the plot as Granville courts one of Dalyrmple’s daughters (Felicity Price) a very prim and proper young women who lives according to the Victorian conventions of decorum and would make the perfect wife, yet there is a strange attraction between Mortimer and Dalyrymple’s other rebellious crusading daughter (Maggie Gyllenhall) who is a social reformer running a settlement house and the opposite of her sister in every way.
Hysteria is a lighthearted film that plays with the social mores of its era. The actors are all perfect fits for their parts and expertly approach each of their individual roles with complete seriousness, with the exclusion of Everett who has fun with his role and makes it work. Tanya Wexler hits the nail on the head with her ensemble, tackling the delicate subject matter in a manner that is funny, debonair and visually discreet.
Overall it is a very enjoyable film that is easy to watch, and good for a few laughs. I would give it a solid 6 out of 10 stars – it truly is a great film to watch with a couple of girlfriends.