2012-07-13 / Entertainment/Lifestyles


‘Hysteria’ – Victorian Good Vibrations
By Robert Snyder

The film, “Hysteria,” gives new meaning to the phrase, “stiff upper lip,” referring to the laughably proper British approach to tension. Here, the tension is what was called, “hysteria” or “female troubles,” in Victorian times. Physicians’ dead serious dealings with wealthy women’s “troubles” makes for an hilarious farce.

“Based on true events – really,” the film takes place in the 1880s as young Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) joins the flourishing London practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who is inundated with hysterical female clients. The “therapy” involves a certain flick of the wrist in the right places, resulting in multiple healing paroxysms. The word, “sex,” is never used. We’re talking medical science here.

The problem is that as the practice’s appointment box fills, ever-popular Dr. Granville’s talented right wrist cramps. Enter his friend, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), a rich dilettante inventor. Adapting an early electric feather buster, the two buddies devise the first mechanical “paroxysmator,” the answer to a maiden or matron’s prayer and to theirs as well.

However, Dr. Granville isn’t all business. His boss has two beautiful daughters, the demure Emily (Felicity Jones) and the fiery suffragette Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Disappointed with Charlotte’s passionate individualism and philanthropy, Dr. Dalrymple pushes the obedient Emily to wed Dr. Granville, whom he hopes will continue the practice.

Charlotte’s temperament is put to the test when she tangles with a policeman and ends up on trial, her insanity in question. It is left to Dr. Granville to assess her hysteria.

While the movie makes its points, it doesn’t get so wrapped up in women’s rights to lose its dry British humor. After all, this is about the birth of the electric vibrator, really.

See “Hysteria” and find out how good vibrations emerged from the stuffy Victorian era.

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