A Very Happy Ending
Hysteria is a hilarious, good-hearted movie about hand jobs and the men who gave them. Lest you think they were pervs, providing old-fashioneds was a standard treatment offered by the better class of general practitioners. But London was populated with many more upper-crust clitorises than medical men, so one of them invented the electro-mechanical vibrator to relieve his colleagues of such onerous, not to say time-consuming, work. Heehee!
I don't want to give the wrong impression: Victorians were total prudes! And Hysteria respects that about them; very little about this movie would make your great-great-great grandma blush. The good news is that you can see it with your mom.
Hysteria isn't about female sexual liberation, so much as it is a romantic comedy that depicts the first teensy tiptoes in that direction. The red-handed doctors were, after all, attempting to cure "hysteria," a mysterious mental health condition that somehow only affected women and could only be relieved via "hysterical paroxysm."
Because, as everyone knows, nothing makes a gal crazy like possessing a vag.
The always appealing Hugh Dancy stars as Mortimer Granville, the doctor who filed the first patent for a vibrator in 1902 (with Hamilton Beach, like my bread maker).
When the movie begins, Mortimer finds a job in the office of one Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose waiting room is jam-packed, thanks to his particular gift for, um, dexterity.
Dalrymple's daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a do-gooder who is convinced that her father is basically full of shit, but who has no problem using his income to finance her social causes. Her sister, Emily (Felicity Jones), is a namby-pamby with pseudo-scientific inclinations of her own. Dalrymple wants Mortimer to marry Emily, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is by far the more famous actress, so that would never work.
When not sparring with Maggie's adorable dimples, Mortimer is busy giving handies. So many, in fact, that he develops a repetitive stress injury. Oh no! What to do! So many hysterical paroxysms waiting to be induced! As all sensible people should, he seeks the advice of Rupert Everett, who just so happens to be fiddling with one of the very first electronic appliances, the electric duster.
Hysteria spends a bit too much time winking at it's modern audience -- yes, we get it, those quaint Victorians didn't know about orgasms -- but it generally finds the g-spot between history and humor. Gyllenhaal is always great, but she acts kind of like an American portraying an Edwardian lady instead of an Edwardian lady.
Aside from the orgasms, the best part of Hysteria is how great it looks. This is important, because there is a lot (a lot) of explaining. Tanya Wexler, the director (but not the writer), compensated for this by making early 20th century London look amazing -- so even the boring parts are pleasurable.