Whimsy and logic collide in the wonderful new film, “Hysteria.” In this different kettle-of-fish British romp, based on true events, the vibrator is inadvertently invented in 1880s Victorian England. It’s tastefully wry, right-on and guaranteed to slap a smirk on your face.
The premise back then was that women suffered many ailments, which could be lumped into a simple diagnosis of hysteria. Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) discovers a method of treatment to alleviate their symptoms. By massaging a lady’s most “gentle areas,” his clientele became beneficiaries of extremely pleasurable results. Soon, he enlists the services of a young protégé, Dr. Granville (Hugh Dancy), who catches onto the technique quite swimmingly. But, an occupational hazard ensues ... carpal tunnel syndrome.
Granville’s wealthy best friend and inventor, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett — eerily resembling a young Maximilian Schell) has recently developed an electric feather duster. As Granville is fiddling with the contraption, he’s struck by a stroke of genius and the rest is jolly-good sexual history.
A love triangle is also ensuing. Granville falls in love with Dalrymple’s proper daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones), and becomes engaged. But soon, an attraction develops for her older sister, Charlotte (the angelic Maggie Gyllenhaal), a feminist suffragette, who helps the poor. Granville sees the error of his ways, remembers his Hippocratic oath and becomes the doctor he was meant to be.
Director Tanya Wexler has concocted a sweet, uplifting period piece set in London at the time of monumental change. Women’s issues were just beginning to gain notoriety, while the industrial revolution was in full swing. Bustles were disappearing, and Victorian prudery was making a slow but steady exit. There were good vibrations for the future.
“Hysteria” is not only a film about the invention of a sex tool that shook the world, it’s also about doing the right things in life. Judging by the constant giggling throughout the film, the audience seemed quite pleased to have been there. I know I was.
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