R, 99 minutes
“Hysteria” had me until about two-thirds of the way through. This witty, funny movie is a highly fictionalized but not entirely ludicrous account of the invention of the vibrator, circa 1880 London. Yes, that’s right. The world’s most popular sex toy was created by starchy doctors seeking a way to address upper-crust housewives reporting vague physical and emotional problems.
An ambitious younger doctor, Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), is apprenticed to a wealthy physician who treats the vexations of London’s finest females (Jonathan Pryce). He woos his mentor’s proper daughter (Felicity Jones) but is intrigued by the other daughter, the brash, idealistic proto-suffragette Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Their pairing and her progressive sensibilities both seem rather forced.
At first, the dashing young doctor is a boon to the practice. But he soon finds himself plagued by hand cramps, and has to come up with a mechanical alternative with the help of his friend and rich patron, Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett).
It’s all played for jokes and winks, to generally successful effect. I should point out that despite the film’s R rating, all the “treatment” takes place under modest drapes appropriate to the Victorian era, and beyond the risqué subject matter, the movie is unlikely to shock the most matronly of grandmothers.