Release Date: September 21st, 2012
Director: Tanya Wexlar
Starring: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhall, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Ashley Jensen
Hysteria is a film about the invention of vibrator, the most popular sex toy in current times. It dramatizes the background events which surrounded Dr Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a practitioner of women’s medicine, as he realises the potential of (Rupert Everett) new device in treating the current plague of London: hysteria.
While based on true events, the film weaves a tale of fiction which plays on the beliefs and ignorance in the Victorian Era, the setting providing a delightful background for the fluff plot. However, Hysteria does have trouble to get things started and often the balance between the light-hearted adventures of Granville and the serious issue of women’s rights goes off kilter.
The main plot that follows Granville is delightfully twee as he struggles to find a practice who agrees with his beliefs in the new medicinal theories in disease ridden London. Eventually, he arrives at the door of Dr Robert Dalrymphle (Jonathan Pryce) who specialises in treating women suffering from hysteria. Most of the giggles are found here as Dalrymphle demonstrates the technique of helping him patients reach “hysterical paroxysm”, or orgasm to the rest of us.
The rest of the film has Granville defending the work as medically necessary, denying comments from Everett and Gyllenhall about issuing pleasure. An interesting parallel is drawn between the two doctors and Dalrymple’s maid, a former prostitute, in this regard which is, unfortunately, under explored. The same can also be said about Hysteria’s attempts to explore women’s rights in Victorian London. The secondary plot helmed by Gyllenhall’s Charlotte is remarkably absent for long periods of the film, especially for the first half, and, instead, we are treated to numerous scenes of Dancy’s doctor walking around the parks like a lost dog.
Hysteria definitely suffers from the plague of our time: a trailer which tells the story much better than the film. From the trailer, I had gleaned the gist of the main plot surrounding Granville’s vibrator, but I had been looking forward to the other elements that were needed to make the film more rounded. Charlotte’s work with the less fortunate in London, the women (and men) who had real issues, medical and otherwise, is exactly what the film needs and this is seen in latter half of Hysteria where the two plots successfully merge.
The London presented in Wexlar’s Hysteria is a romanticised one. It’s delightfully twee, nicely detailed and most certainly funny if perhaps slow to get going. Perhaps with a bit more work, maybe a little quicker to the point and maybe a more teasing warm up, it could have been a hidden joy but it’s missteps fail to hit the spot (though who knows what this film might have been like in D-BOX).
Ultimately, Hysteria is a nice, silly film that won’t go a miss when there’s not much else to see.