It’s the 1880’s, and throughout London women are suffering from Hysteria. Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) is cashing in on the problem though, having discovered that the cure for Hysteria is a little…hand relief. So as it turns out Hysteria (a term most of us have heard, but may not have known the origins), is essentially the need for a woman to have an orgasm, and how a lack of this can cause allsorts of issues, from stress to bad moods. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a disgruntled doctor, sick of the lack of health care throughout London. Having encountered, and becoming employed by Robert, Mortimer suffers a severe case of tennis elbow, which causes his ability to satisfy the female clients, a remedy is needed.
Hysteria is the very true story of Mortimer Granville and Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), the creators of the vibrator. And follows the path of it’s need, and very accidental creation, as part of another experiment gone wrong.
Told in an incredibly tongue in cheek manner, and handled with great sensitivity by director Tanya Wexler, Hysteria is a very traditional British style romp, with a smutty undertone. And while it works very well in reality, on paper it might not sound like a movie you might like to see. Despite what you might expect to encounter in this movie, it is actually dealt with in a very innocent manner.
The person who certainly seems on the surface to have had the most fun is woman of the moment Sheridan Smith, whom having finished work on the West End’s musical of Legally Blonde, is appearing in literally everything (in fact another movie, Tower Block, opens in the UK on the same day). In Hysteria she plays Molly (AKA Molly the Lolly) a housemaid, with a rather raunchy past. Smith for the most part of her career has been a picture of innocence, so for her to be able to literally throw her goody goody image to the floor, in favour of something far more daring must have been a real driving force for her. Not only does she shake off her image, she even gets to deliver a Meg Ryan style orgasm, as the first woman to experience the vibrator (later nicknamed the Jolly Molly).
Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers a fine performance, and a very convincing English accent, as Charlotte, the daughter of Robert. In typical Gyllenhaal style, she gets to play a very loud, brash, over the top character, and potential leading lady in romance for our leading man.
Hysteria is a quirky movie, with a romantic heart, it’s humour comes for the most part by Sheridan Smith and Rupert Everett, and it’s storytelling does I feel probably stretch the truth quite considerably, especially towards the end. But most importantly this is a harmless, quirky piece of escapism. It’s not going to win awards, or change movie history, but it does pass 90 minutes in a rather rewarding way.
Interestingly, the term Hysteria was finally made obsolete in 1954, over half a decade after the “cure” was discovered.