Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Personal massager. Sex toy. Marital aid. A vibrator by any other name would work just as effectively in hitting the sweet (G) spot. And in spite of its Hitchcockian title, Hysteria is, in fact, an effective period dramedy, set in 1880 and detailing the invention of said pleasure-producing device.

Of course, the invention of the vibrator came about not as a means to pleasure women but, according to Tanya Wexler's film (penned by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer), as a by-product of the treatment of women for various psychological maladies and ailments; ironically by men, and even more ironically, in Hysteria, as a result of one man's wanker's cramp.

Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is an idealistic young doctor, the kind who believes in the new science and germs and as a result, often comes into conflict with his superiors and is regularly fired from his place of practise.

His latest bout of unemployment leads him to accepting a position with Doctor Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), an uptown medico with a private clinic and predominantly female clientel. For Dalrymple specialises in the treatment of women's hysteria -- anything from tiredness to depression -- and it's a hands-on treatment.

One of the film's comic set pieces is Granville's introduction to Darymple's method: the patient in stirrups and her modesty protected by miniature red curtains, Darymple applies a mixture of oils to his hands before applying them to the patient's nether regions; a little 'how's your father?' until the patient achieves climax and, ta-da, patient satisfaction guaranteed.

Granville's youth, charm and good looks make him a popular addition to Darymple's practise (a one-hand wonder, if you will), so much so that the young doctor begins to develop RSI in his wrist.

But with the help of his friend and some-time benefactor Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett, relishing his character's impropriety), a wealthy bachelor with a fascination for new technologies like electricity and the telephone, Granville hits upon an invention that achieves the same results for treating hysteria but in half the time. Spare the wrist, spoil the patient.

The sub plot of Hysteria involves Granville's divided attentions between Darymple's two daughters: the pretty and demure, Emily (Felicity Jones, sadly underused), and the impassioned Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal, effectively affecting a British accent but speaking slightly loudly so we notice it).

The elder Charlotte is an insufferable suffragette who works in the poor part of London, helping women with abusive and neglectful husbands, and educating their children. And even though Granville has (rather clumsily) proposed marriage to Emily, with the promise of taking over her father's practise in the future, he can't help but be drawn to the firey Charlotte.

It's probably no coincidence that the invention of the vibrator should occur at the same time that the suffragette movement began making its presence felt, although a sexual revolution wouldn't occur until decades later when the invention of the contraceptive pill allowed women to take control of their bodies and not just their orgasms.

Not that Wexler's film is overtly political or sexual. Hysteria, despite its stimulating subject matter, is as polite as the Victorian era in which it is set. Never bawdy, it prefers to tip-toe around its subject (to tease if you will), rather than zeroing in on it like Granville's device does.

As a result, Hysteria doesn't achieve cinematic paroxysm but it's pleasant enough to leave you with a smile on your face.

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