Comedy Movies, by Mike Richardson, 03 October 2012

Director: Tanya Wexler

Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy and Jonathan Pryce

Country: USA

Runtime: 100 min

Release Date:

Language: English

Hysteria tells the story of Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy), a straight-faced Victorian doctor who sets about the solemn task of treating the fairer sex with the one size fits all 19th-century ailment comically and unhelpfully called ‘hysteria’ which is “cured” by a good old fashioned orgasm. Originally restricted to “manual” massages to relieve the tensions and give satisfaction to his patients, the good doctor, after almost developing a ridiculous repetitive strain injury, bringing them to ‘paroxysm’ (what is actually an orgasm), he sets out to invent a mechanical alternative and unwittingly invents the vibrator.

Hysteria

Hysteria

And the best thing about it all, it’s all true! Believe it or not “Manual genital massage” of women had been a medical remedy since ancient times, and hysteria was a real and “recognised” illness until 1952. Joseph Mortimer Granville filed the first patent for an electromechanical vibrator termed Granville’s Hammer in about 1883.But he did not apply his invention in the treatment of hysteria (in real life) instead he used it to treat muscular disorders. However other physicians started to apply the vibrator for the treatment of hysteria…so I’ll forgive the film that one.

Hysteria weaves a fictitious story around a historically accurate context. Victorian Women were indeed dismissed as “hysterical” something that allegedly afflicted half of London’s women, before being treated to a ‘vulva massage’ as a treatment, a side effect of which being it gave them a “release” that doctors considered impossible outside of good old fashioned penetration. Frustration seems to be the true mother of all invention.
The film talks the “facts” and gives them a full steam comic spin. Hysteria stars Rupert Everett as Granville’s ‘bachelor’ pal, who invents the precursor to the rampant rabbit ™, the he intends as an electronic feather duster (no sniggering at the back). Livening things up but distracting from the issue is Maggie (Secretary) Gyllenhaal as a proto-feminist, womens’ libber Charlotte Dalrymple (contracted to her submissive sister (Felicity Jones)). Gyllenhaal is (naturally) fantastic but her love-hate romance with Granville feels like it belongs in rom-com, rather than a vibe-run invention film.

In the meantime, an assortment of stereotypical Victorian ladies undergo the sexy shock therapy with appropriate squeals of (pre 50 Shades) delight. Hysteria happily ticks along, and if you like this sort of thing, you’ll like it lots. The origins of the vibrator (out selling washing machines in the UK at present) is played broadly for big laughs, as if it’s all terribly tittersome to talk about “thingy” in such a straightforward way. Sadly this prudish approach trivialises everything about the story, the problem with misdiagnosis and the device itself. Hysteria (the film) isn’t helped by a the script never gives any of these characters more than one or two personality traits, with the hinting at the serious themes underneath overshadowing and distracting from the drama (comedy) trying to get out.

Hysteria Trailer

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