Hysteria, a derivative of the Greek word “hystera” meaning uterus, a malady uniquely female; symptoms included fainting, nervous disorders, erratic behavior, in essence a euphemism for sexual frustration.
“Hysteria” addresses the ageless epidemic, and its cure, focusing on women in late nineteenth -century, Victorian England.
Hugh Dancy is “Dr. Mortimer Granville”, perpetually fired from hospitals because of his revolutionary ideas (stresses the value of cleanliness in the curative process); after an exhaustive search is hired by “Dr. Dalrymple” (Jonathan Pryce manages to dignify the role of sexual savior with “Prycian” savoir-faire) as an assistant in his vastly expanding, lucrative practice.
The film is saved from silliness by luminous Maggie Gyllenhaal as “Charlotte” a suffragette, precursor of women’s liberation, in constant battle with her father, Dr. Dalrymple to finance her “settlement house”; she is fire and brimstone , governing every scene; she is poetic in her justification of women’s equality; shattering the shackles of male dominance, she is a majestic tornado, a life -force impossible to restrain, a whirling dervish, breaking the mold of Victorian mores, aka “hysterical”!
Charlotte’s counterpart is her sister “Emily” (doll-like, Felicity Jones), archetypical, pristine model of the “male Victorian gaze”; hers is a subtle transformation that matches nicely with her sister’s tempestuous, fiery nature.
Rupert Everett, whose handsome countenance is camouflaged by a Freudian beard, is “Edmund” Dr. Granville’s entitled, tinkering friend; pivotal in the discovery of the electric gadget that frees women from the waiting rooms of the Drs. Dalrymple/Granville. This discovery is the source of a myriad of “paroxysms”, hilarious scenes.
Creativity comes in a variety of genres; inventiveness should be lauded. “Hysteria” is not a great film but courageous in tackling the taboo of sexual inadequacies; appetites, no longer unrequited. “Hysteria” is a reminder of the debt owed to Dr. William Gilbert (1600 English physician) , Benjamin Franklin, Mortimer Granville whose research in electricity continues to “vibrate” throughout history.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!