If a woman in Victorian times felt faint or depressed, agitated or anxious, if she was irritable or irrational, would not eat, or ate too much, then the source of her woe was simple: female hysteria.
A once common medical diagnosis, it also supplies the premise from which Hysteria - a light and larky costume comedy - embarks. Based on true events (what movie these days isn't?), it is the story of the invention of the vibrator. Yes, the sex toy, developed as a clinical instrument to treat women suffering from the aforementioned ailments.
Directed by Tanya Wexler, from a screenplay by Stephen and Jonah Lisa Dyer (based on an idea from Philadelphia Daily News columnist Howard Gensler), Hysteria takes place in London at a time of enormous change: The telephone allowed people to communicate in new, immediate ways, the bicycle offered a liberating new mode of transport, machinery was changing the course of industry, and medicine . . . well, medicine was still mired in the past. Leeching, amputation, cure-all tonics, and pills.
But the young physician Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) will have none of it. Forward thinking and up to speed on the latest medical science, Granville finds himself booted from one hospital to the next. And then, he lands at the busy clinic of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), a "specialist" in women's medicine who spends most of his office time providing pelvic massages for his "hysterical" patients.