Review by Nerissa Rowan
It’s clear when watching Hysteria that the scriptwriters had a great deal of fun. This rom-com is stuffed with innuendo.
Of course that’s not surprising, since the story is loosely based on the invention of the modern vibrator.
Victorian England is full of unfulfilled middle class women suffering from an affliction called hysteria. The worst sufferers are committed to asylums or endure radical hysterectomies. Fortunately there is another answer.
The story follows handsome young doctor Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy and based on real-life Dr Joseph Mortimer Granville, who did not invent his massager for use on women), who begins the distasteful work of relieving symptoms of hysteria with manual stimulation leading to paroxysm. Yes, that is what it sounds like.
Much to her father’s dismay, Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a woman ahead of her time. Escaping from a life of middle-class boredom, Charlotte has devoted her life to helping the less fortunate and believes that equality is the way of the future.
While Mortimer courts Charlotte’s younger sister and suffers from the constant hard work of tending to his female patients, Charlotte tries to convince the idealistic doctor that his skills could be better used elsewhere.
The story of the young doctor’s love life is played side-by-side with that of the invention and the patients who sing its praises. If you ignore the historical inaccuracies (and there are many) and the fact the two stories don’t really intertwine, it’s a very enjoyable film. I found those things easy to forgive, since I was too busy laughing and sympathising with the female lead.
It’s not all humour. There are plenty of serious points made about the treatment of women and the poor at that time, and the importance of learning and health for people wishing to better their situation. The sets and costumes are stunning, and the comic characters of Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) and Molly (Sheridan Smith) are incredibly endearing. Every role is well acted by a cast who look like they are having a great time. Particularly the women.
Unless you’re a very confident person, this is probably not a good first date movie, and certainly not one you’d want to see with your grandmother. But Hysteria led to plenty of my own laughter-induced paroxysms. Stay to the end for a rather amusing timeline of the development of vibrators.
Should you see Hysteria? Yes. Yes… Yes!
Hysteria, directed by Tanya Wexler, runs at Palace Cinemas.
As a poet, performer and writer, NERISSA ROWAN dabbles at the edges of Brisbane’s arts scene. She is on Queensland Poetry Festival’s Program Committee and reviews for Arts Hub.