Director Tanya Wexler takes a gently applied but satirically stimulating approach to <em><strong>Hysteria</strong></em>, which traces origin of the vibrator to the Victorian era and an attempt to invent a plug-in, rotating feather duster. Young Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a progressive-minded physician who can’t hold down a job in London’s medical establishment due to his rejection of bleeding and Beekman’s cure-all pills. Fighting germs and infection is still too radical, but after finding many doors closed to him he is asked to lend a hand at the private women’s clinic of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce).
Dr. Dalrymple has a cure all of his own. He treats a variety of women’s symptoms — unease, melancholia, frigidity and “hysteria” – by having his patients sit back on an examination table and coating his fingers with a natural oil before applying a rotating technique that keeps his patients coming back again and again. Dr. Granville takes to the technique immediately and quickly develops chronic cramps. He also takes to Dr. Dalrymple’s prim and proper daughter, Emma (Felicity Jones), while at the same time being intrigued by intense eldest daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is passionately dedicated to the helping the poor.
Meanwhile, Dr. Granville’s iconoclastic roommate, Edmund (Rupert Everett), who has been experimenting with electricity, comes up with an idea for a household appliance that makes a rotating motion similar to the Dalrymple technique. The young doctor sees it as a substitute for his sore hand, but just as it becomes a hit with the patients, Charlotte’s passion gets her in trouble with the legal system that could result in a permanent penalty Dr. Granville can’t fix. The plot point is a bit predictable, but doesn’t take away from the satisfaction of Wexler’s light touch and fine command of story, period and cast. MATT KELEMEN