By Rebecca McRitchie
Ironically, a movie about the invention of the vibrator does little to stimulate its audience.
Directed by Tanya Wexler and starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones and Rupert Everett, Hysteria aims to weave romantic comedy devices and 21st Century humour into a Victorian period setting. Evidently, it doesn’t succeed.
Set in London in the year 1880, the film centres around Dr Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) whose forward thinking views on the latest medical theories, such as Germ Theory, prevent him from practicing medicine in many, if not all, medical establishments that do not share his modern views. Eventually, he stumbles upon Dr Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose medical practice specialises in treating women suffering from hysteria, or in modern terms, sexual frustration.
Desperate, Dr Granville accepts the job and goes about his days manually stimulating ‘hysterical’ women. The scenes that follow are very ho-hum, intended for cheap laughs, like when a Spanish opera singer breaks into song, or an elderly woman screams ‘Tally-Ho!’ and knocks the good doctor over in sheer delight. Dr Granville soon realises that he cannot keep up with the demand of hysterical women and develops the Victorian equivalent of carpal tunnel. While visiting his eccentric friend, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), the two stumble upon a device that is able to do Dr Granville’s job for him.
The subplot of the movie involves a love triangle between Dr Granville and the two daughters of Dr Dalrymple – the perfect Victorian wife, Emily (Felicity Jones) and the firecracker suffragette, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). It is here that the film’s reliance on clunky rom-com devices that are predictable and tiresome, becomes apparent and noticeably out of place in a period film. One example being the old run-into-your-love-interest-and-literally-fall-ontop-of-one-another-with-hands-in-forbidden-places shtick.
Gyllenhaal shines as the loud and earnest Charlotte, and I found myself wishing the entire movie was based around her fighting for the equality of women and helping the poor in the East End, rather than the bumbling and twitchy life of Dancy’s Dr Granville.
The jokes wear thin, with silly double entendres, lazy humour and the irony of Victorians being unaware of obvious technological and scientific truths, such as the concept of germs and the invention of the telephone.
Overall I give Hysteria a 2.5/5. Despite the costume and set design, the entire movie does not ring true. Everything is approached with a winking, sarcastic tone, resulting in an inability to invest in the movie beyond a few half-hearted chuckles. It was all just rather silly.
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