Posts Tagged ‘Hysteria’


hysteria001-560x365“Hysteria” could easily have been called “Desperate Housewives (of 1880).” Set in 19th century London, the story centers around Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) — a young handsome doctor whose carpal tunnel syndrome led directly to the invention of the vibrator.

The year is 1880 and hysteria is “the plague of our times,” according to Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), a doctor whose magic fingers bring relief to London’s upper class ladies. His solution to their dilemma is simple. He offers manual stimulation until his patients achieve “paroxysm.”

In those days hysteria was a catchall phrase used to encompass all manner of female ailments. According to Wikipedia, “women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and ‘a tendency to cause trouble.'”

Enter Granville, an idealistic doctor who keeps losing jobs at old-fashioned hospitals because of his new-fangled ideas about germs. He accepts an apprenticeship with Dalrymple and soon his nimble fingers and good looks have attracted the attention London’s desperate housewives and daughter Emily Dalrymple (Felicity Jones). She’s an English Rose who stands in contrast to her sister Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a live wire suffragette who is passionate about working with the city’s disadvantaged.

Business booms at the doctor’s office until Granville suffers hand and wrist ailments from vigorous overuse. In short order he co-invents the world’s first vibrator with the help of his friend Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett). He also discovers true love and the true nature of hysteria.

Despite its racy premise “Hysteria” is rather tame. As social commentary it’s lightweight, shedding little light on the repressive Victorian attitude toward women and sexuality. Sure, the female patients know exactly what the cause of their so-called hysteria is and Gyllenhaal speechifies on women’s rights, but a movie about the invention of the tool that revolutionized sexuality should focus on that and not the predictable rom-com love triangle.

As a comedy it misses the opportunity for big laughs by under-using Everett, whose hammy performance breaks through the stodgy Englishness repressiveness of the setting. The slapstick and masturbation hat make up much of the movie and wears out their welcome early on.

Still, there is something inoffensive about the movie. It’s a sweet attempt to tell an unusual story, but feels like a missed opportunity — which is why “Hysteria” didn’t work for me as well as it might have. I expected more than a comedy of manners with an off-colour edge from the story. This is a rental, not a night out.

Hysteria a ‘stimulating’ story By Richard Crouse May 18, 2012 Metro Canada

hysteria posterHugh Dancy, right, plays Mortimer Granville, a handsome doctor in 1880s England who cures women of ‘hysteria.’

Actor Hugh Dancy says the pitch for his new movie, Hysteria, was remarkably simple.

“All I got was essentially the tagline,” he says, “The Invention of the Vibrator.”

“I had some awareness of the premise,” he says, “so it wasn’t a complete revelation to me, but what I liked was the tone the movie struck between broad comedy and something much sweeter.”

He plays Mortimer Granville, a young, handsome doctor in 1880’s England, whose specialty is treating women with a medical condition known as hysteria.

Called the “plague of our times,” the now-discredited condition was a catchall to encompass all manner of female infirmities, including insomnia, nervousness, sexual desire, shortness of breath and even “a tendency to cause trouble.”

The condition was treated with… ahem… manual stimulation performed by doctors like Granville, until patients achieved “paroxysm.” “They thought they were shifting the uterus,” he says.

“That basic fact, which is the source of all the comedy and the fun thing in the movie,” Dancy says, “is the one thing that was absolutely accurate.”

Dancy, who has been married to actress Claire Danes since 2009, downplays the shooting of the awkward scenes, even though the doctor’s ‘magic-finger’ treatments provide some of the movie’s most memorable moments.

“We had some very accomplished and very game actresses come in and hoist themselves up onto an operating table and then we shot what you see in the movie.”

But the story doesn’t completely centre around the unorthodox medical treatment. As the actor says, it’s a “witches’ brew” of ideas, including romantic comedy, some social commentary on women’s rights and a history on the tool that revolutionized sexuality. “Any one of them on their own would make for a far less interesting movie,” says the actor, who will next be heard in the animated Dorothy of Oz, co-starring Lea Michele and Patrick Stewart.

“Obviously there are plenty of interesting movies to be made around the subject of women’s rights, but if the bits of this movie that address that had been extrapolated into a whole movie, I don’t think it would have added up to much.”