I first watched Hysteria late last year and was so enamoured by this sweet lovely movie, I actually bought it. This past Saturday I watched it again with my friend Kathleen and again have to say this is an absolutely adorable movie. She agreed.
Do you know when you see an absolutely awful box office movies, case in point, Identity Thief. I liked the actors, especially Jason Bateman but the movie was just horrible, really awful and not worthy of your $15 ticket. Then there are these darling movies that dont even get to the theaters! What is that all about? There is something so very wrong with this movie world. Hysteria is a lovely, funny movie.
“Historically, a medical disorder marked by excitability, irritability, misbehavior and emotional extremes, occurring mainly in women”
Back in the 1800s and indeed through to as late as the 1950s most women’s ailments were put down to something called “hysteria.” Doctors determined that this diagnosis could only be treated by… ahem … manual stimulation, which led to something they called an hysterical paroxysm. Of course, today we know it as something completely different.
With the back story of the movie being about the invention of the electro-mechanical vibrator in the 1880s(a true story), Hysteria nicely combines costume period drama meets romantic comedy meets a little bit sauciness and with that, instead of this movie coming off as lewd it manages to pull off (almost) wholesome.
Dr. Mortimer Granville, played by Hugh Dancy is at the cutting edge of medical science, which gets him terminated from many jobs. He takes the first job he is offered after being fired once again. This job is in treating women with “hysteria” at a hugely successful practice run by Dr. Robert Dalrymple, played by the esteemed Jonathan Pryce.
There was such an innocence back then (apparently) that women did not have… okay I will just say it… orgasms. In fact it was never even heard of, so when “it” happened in the presence of a doctor’s treatment plan, they thought of it legitimately as a cure for their hysterical behavior. This did create some funny and a little embarrassing scenes to watch. Hysteria was thought of as an epidemic in women that could only be cured by visiting a doctor’s office or in extreme circumstances by hysterectomy. Is that not the craziest thing you have ever heard?
Maggie Gyllenhaal, plays Charlotte Dalrymple, daughter of Dr. Dalrymple and somewhat of a thorn in his side with her non-conformist ways. Charlotte is an extremely forward thinking, out-spoken, fire cracking suffragette who believes in equal rights, not just for women but equal rights for all. She is superb in the role and does a very nice British accent. There is wonderful, sharp banter between her character and Dr. Granville, where she plays both the protagonist and perhaps a love interest to him.
As Dr. Mortimer’s calendar of treatments gets more and more booked up, his hand starts to cramp and ache because of these, let’s say, ministrations. He knew he needed an alternative method for treating these women, which took 45-60 minutes each time.
In comes Edmund St. John Smyth played by Rupert Everett, Dr. Mortimer’s best friend and very family rich who was trying to create an electric feather duster, which in itself is quite “hysterical.” While playing with this invention, Dr. Mortimer had the thought of what else the device could be used for with its vibrations and turning motions. This led to the creation of the first electro-mechanical vibrator, which was then tried out and deemed hugely successful as instead of up to an hour, treatment could take less than five minutes. Women were apparently lining up around the streets for treatment.
There is nothing lascivious about the movie at all but it does make you giggle a little, part in embarrassment and part in shock that this actually happened. Ultimately, this is a sweet love story with a back drop of the women’s movement and the invention of the vibrator as just a funny and historical side story.
I do think there could have been more done with Hysteria as there seemed to be a number of stories going on all at once, but overall they did quite a nice job with the balance.
Shown at the Tribeca film festival, I am not sure if this movie reached mainstream cinemas in America but it is definitely worth a rental.