Vibrating the Victorians

Hysteria

 

Tantalizing Indeed!

Hysteria is a hilarious romantic comedy set in Victorian London in 1880 about a struggling and well-meaning young Doctor, Dr Mortimer Granville played by the ever dashing Hugh Dancy (Evening)who joins up with a prominent Doctor whose medical practice’s sole aim is to treat bored suburban Victorian housewives of the so-called elusive feminine condition of Hysteria. Dr Granville whose under the patronage of wealthy entrepreneur Lord Edmund St John-Smythe, beautifully down played against type by Rupert Everett (Another Country, An Ideal Husband) and is fascinated by all modern electrical inventions which were increasingly surfacing in Victorian London at the ripening of the Industrial Revolution.

Dr Granville is taken in with board and lodging by an unorthodox Dr Dalrymple who is a widower with two very different daughters, the plain and simple Emily played by Felicity Jones and the hugely volatile and passionate Charlotte wonderfully played by the very talented Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, Crazy Heart).

Hysteria works because of the fantastic on screen chemistry between Dancy and Gyllenhaal and is helped by a superbly witty script which highlights not only the bizarre inventions of late 19th Century England but also the more serious plight of women during the Industrial Revolution. Charlotte Dalrymple is a headstrong nurse and teacher who assist at a community school and shelter in the poorer East End of London, much to her pompous father’s disgust.

Charlotte is deeply involved in the ever growing suffragette movement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragette_movement which aimed to eventually give women in Victorian England the right to vote in a unusually patriarchal society ironically ruled by the steadfast Queen Victoria which left women suppressed by controlling men and often viewed as commodities to be traded in a marriage contract reflected in Dr Robert Dalrymple’s view of his daughters, played with an underlining misogyny by the hugely talented British actor Jonathan Pryce (Carrington, Tomorrow Never Dies).

Hysteria in women, whilst manifesting in a variety of symptoms is according to these Victorian doctors basically caused by a lack of sex. Comic moments abound as while the dashing Dr Granville is relieved to give women a helping hand, he eventually turns to his outrageous patron Lord St John-Smythe and between the two of them they perfect the world’s first mechanical vibrator minus the feathers.

Whilst the subject matter might be provocative, Hysteria manages to be an engaging and often hilarious comedy from a uniquely feminine perspective. The onscreen chemistry is fantastic, the cast top notch and the fashions to die for. Hysteria is recommended for all those lovers of period drama yet has all the proper doses of comedy and romance without descending into farce. Tanya Wexler directs and while the editing is not top notch, the script and story line is truly enlivening and not to mention based on historical fact. Really!

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