VOD film review: Hysteria
Ivan Radford | On 15, Nov 2013
Director: Tanya Wexler
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett Sheridan Smith
Watch Hysteria online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Is it possible to derive pleasure from something artificial and manmade? That’s a question no doubt asked by those considering the purchase of an electric vibrator. Hysteria tells the story of that invention, and it’s pretty pleasurable stuff.
Things start off gently, as young Dr Mortimer Granville (Dancy) pulsates with frustration at the backwards world around him. He just wants to heal the sick, he argues, all built-up emotion and no release. But he finally gets the chance to unleash his ideas in Dr Dalrymple’s (Pryce) practice. There, he learns to cure “hysteria”, an emotional malady that apparently afflicts middle-aged women with no husband, through a vigorous and (ahem) hands-on treatment. (You’ve got to give it to Jonathan Pryce. He’s done it all. Terry Gilliam, Harold Pinter, Shakespeare, Dr Who. He’s even been a Bond villain. And now, thanks to Tanya Wexler, he’s spent 95 minutes making innuendos with a raised eyebrow.)
But this dildo drama isn’t always stimulating. There’s the matter of the awkward plot, which sees Mortimer fall for Dr Dalrymple’s obedient daughter, Emily (the always-excellent Felicity Jones), while never noticing his more impetuous offspring, Charlotte (Gyllenhaal, with a Bridget Jones-worthy Brit accent). She’s dismissed as hysterical, of course, but her own diagnosis has nothing to do with science: “hysteria”, she argues, is a catch-all term for downtrodden women.
“This is the 1880s! We’re supposed to be in the middle of a medical revolution!” declares Dancy, in one of the film’s subtler lines of dialogue. The historical inaccuracies may dull some audience members’ excitement – history tells us Granville never did use his vibrator to treat the titular condition – but Wexler wades through the clunky script fast enough to get some good vibrations going. Thanks mostly to a cheerful cast – all visibly flushed with excitement – what starts as an amusing tickle grows into an hugely entertaining 90 minutes, expecially when Rupert Everett pops up and effectively invents phone sex.
Sheridan Smith is spot-on as playful maid Molly, while Pryce is clearly having a whale of a time. But the charming Dancy and Gyllenhall are the real stimulants, producing some unexpected sparks of romance and comedy. Is it possible to derive pleasure from something artificial and manmade? In this film’s case, the answer is yes.
Hysteria is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.