A Fanciful Romp
Many may not realize that the electric vibrator was invented in the 1880s as a way to cure hysteria in women. That historical fact forms the basis for Hysteria, a fanciful story of romance, women’s rights and the fortitude of the real Dr. Mortimer Granville.
Dr. Granville (Hugh Dancy) takes his oath as a doctor seriously. When he’s chastised by the English doctors who adhere to medieval practices instead of wanting to clean wounds or put fresh bandages on ailing patients because they don’t believe in something called germs, he leaves the shoddy hospital. After his ideas are rebuffed by every doctor he seeks to work for, Granville almost gives up. But then he knocks on the door of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce).
Granville is puzzled when he works his way through a waiting room full of upper class ladies waiting to see the doctor. Dalrymple has found a rather prosperous treatment for housewives with sex problems, which he translates as having nervous problems or “hysteria.” He offers Granville a job as his assistant, and because the young doctor has run out of options, he must accept.
Dr. Dalrymple’s daughter Emily (Felicity Jones) seems attracted to Granville immediately. He finds favor with her, but more so because she’s her father’s favorite and he’s hinting at marriage and a business partner. But then the other daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), shows up. She bursts into her father’s office asking for a handout for the settlement house she runs for impoverished prostitutes. Dalrymple throws her out of the office and threatens to disown her.
Relating all this to his roommate, Granville gets little advice from Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), an inventor whose mind always seems somewhere else. It’s actually Edmund’s design of an electric cleaner tool that triggers Granville to envision an instrument that will replace the hand method of pleasing his women patients.
The script by Stephen and Jonah Lisa Dyer is terrific. These co-writers did their homework in investigating a period between traditional times and new ideas. For Granville, this meant leaving behind the use of vapors and leeches and really understanding germ theory. The plot comes across as well rounded -- with not only a love story but also a breaking of the mold by two different women: one easily manipulated by her father and wanting to please him, the other a suffragette willing to stand up, maybe even face prison for a cause she believes in.
A terrific cast manages to pull off this amusing and whimsical story. Dancy (Adam, The Jane Austen Book Club) is convincing as the charming doctor who has brains, intellect, foresight, and a true heart waiting to be captured. Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean) appears precise as the doctor who can’t see the forest for the trees and doesn’t want a saw. Everett (Shakespeare in Love, An Ideal Husband), the kind of actor whose cool demeanor makes it seem like he’s barely acting, uses that pearl of talent to cement his character. Still, Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart, Secretary) steals the film with her strong portrayal of Charlotte, who’s not ashamed of what she does and sees her work as even more significant than her father’s.
The look of Victorian England, Nic Ede’s incredible costumes, Sean Bobbitt’s great cinematography, and superb direction by Tanya Wexler add even more enjoyment to Hysteria.
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated “R” for sexual content.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.