Hysteria

(M) Hopscotch DVD/BD

If this films subject matter seems lurid it’s probably because it is. But this romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator has the light humour that is designed to make grandma laugh not blush.

Aside from the fact that much of the “science” in the film is actually true — that Victorian-era women were treated for hysteria through massaging until they found relief through “paroxysms” — this light-hearted comedy travails the wacky science of the genteel in an era when women weren’t even able to vote.

Leeches were at the forefront of medical practice and Dr Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is on the outer with the staid establishment. That is until he takes a job with Dr Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) who specialises in the aforementioned treatment of hysteria.

Granville welcomes the chance to join the practice.

Meanwhile Dalrymple’s lively daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a staunch supporter of women’s rights and brings shame on the family by working with prostitutes, poor children and the suffragette movement. Charlotte also knows most of her father’s patients are far from ill, just ignored by their husbands.

Scenes in the surgery will induce laugh-out-loud moments as the delicate modesty devices engineered by the good doctors are revealed.

The film has a lot to say about how little Victorian-era women were considered in society, even to the point of not being in charge of their own wellbeing, and while Gyllenhaal seems out of time in her views, hers is a welcome voice of compassion and empathy in the film.

Adrian Drayton

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