List Film

Hysteria (3 stars)

An irreverent drama about the invention of the vibrator, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy


Boasting a story that’s based on true – albeit improbable – events, Hysteria is a period drama with a helping or two of sex comedy, making it a cross between a Jane Austen adaptation and a Carry On film. The third feature from American director Tanya Wexler stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy and Rupert Everett, travelling under the skirts of Victorian ladies with its irreverent look at the invention of the electro-mechanical vibrator.

Dancy plays Mortimer Granville, a young, earnest doctor whose interest in modern methodology is thwarting his career. Rejecting the offer of financial assistance from his exuberant friend Edmund (Everett), Mortimer eventually lands a position in an upmarket practice, specialising in the treatment of ‘hysterical’ women. There he’s under the tutelage of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) administrating intimate, sometimes lengthy, ‘medical’ massages to thrilled patients. Mortimer falls for Robert’s sweet, obedient daughter Emily (Felicity Jones) but their prim courtship is jeopardised when he develops feelings for her firebrand social reformer sister Charlotte (Gyllenhaal).

Representations of female sexual pleasure are still little seen in commercial cinema so this is a welcome, if fluffy, foray into taboo territory. Gyllenhaal gives it plenty of oomph and sports a passable English accent, though sparks don’t exactly fly between her and Dancy as they bond over germ theory. Furthermore, Hysteria doesn’t really know what it wants to be – it gives us a smidge of politics, a smattering of smut, a splash of romance and a few laughs but is frustrating in its delivery of each. Relentlessly euphemistic rather than explicit, Hysteria is considerably milder than the title and subject matter suggest.

Selected release from Fri 21 Sep.

Hysteria - Trailer (2011)


  • 3 stars
  • 2011
  • UK/France/Germany/Luxembourg
  • 100 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Tanya Wexler
  • Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce
  • UK release: 21 September 2012

Granville (Dancy) is a Victorian doctor whose treatment of 'hysterical' women is thwarted by injury, until his friend Edmund (Everett) steps in with a device he's developed. Wexler's irreverent look at the invention of the electro-mechanical vibrator is a welcome, if fluffy foray into taboo territory, but it could have…


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