It is 1880 and Dr Mortimer Granvillle (Hugh Dancy) is struggling to hold down a position anywhere. On the cusp of both a medical and technological revolution, Granville is a well read and thoughtful medical practitioner and has no love for the ways of the older Doctor. Gone are the days of leeches as a one-stop cure all. Of this, he is quite sure.
When he interviews for a position at Dr Robert Dalrymple’s (Johnathan Pryce) practice for the treatment of female hysteria, he is justifiably shocked, given the treatments Dalrymple is employing, but succeeds in obtaining a permanent role with good prospects, and these prospects could even go so far as making a wife of Dalrymple’s youngest daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones) At this point we are also introduced to his eldest, and somewhat frowned upon, daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is a driven, spitting viper of a woman that her father is dismayed by and is desperately trying (and failing) to find a way to make her fall into line, become a good wife and darn her hard working husbands socks of an evening, if she could find a man mad enough to marry her. She is having none of this, of course, preferring to work with the homeless, teach young scamps general arithmetic and the alphabet and generally, god forbid, do good things for no pay.
And so begins the story of the creation of the vibrator. Much is made of the hysteria that these women are supposed to suffer from, all coming to see the good doctor for his unusual, unique but ultimately effective ‘treatment’. This was never going to last and then one day, Granville stumbles across an idea by accident, as all the best ideas are found. If only you could invent a machine that would do what the doctors were doing ‘by hand’. A willing volunteer for a trial of the prototype is found in ex-prostitute Molly (Sheridan Smith) with positive enough results for the device to be used on their patients.
Incredibly, Hysteria does not end up playing like a ‘Carry On’ movie. The performances by the whole cast are effectvie and very enjoyable to witness. Dancy is perfect as Granville, both enthusiastic about his profession but out of his depth around his new patients. Gyllenhall is excellent as the near suffragette that takes no prisoners and doesn’t mind throwing a punch at the local constabulary. Add a haughty, bearded Pryce, a demure, slighly dizzy Felicity Jones and token strumpet Sheridan Smith and you cannot help but chuckle at the frightfully Englishness of it all. No-one wants to see a sixty year woman in stirrups being pleasured by a young man, but the reactions of the patients are a joy to watch, released from the confines of their marriages to Victorian bores, for half an hour every so often.
Amongst all of this farce, there is a serious message, not least about the freedom of women from the bonds that held sway over them for hundreds of years prior to a revolution that gave them the opportunities to become educated in a university and the right to vote.Whether the vibrator was responsible for this liberation is up for debate, but even if it wasn’t, it lit up the faces of women everywhere who tried it and if you believe the movie, even the Queen herself had one. Well done Tanya Wexler. Very, very enjoyable stuff.