For a film that is about the invention of the vibrator, Hysteria is strangely wholesome.
Based on ‘true events’ – with undoubtedly numerous liberties taken, pun intended, to make the whole affair more fun – the film follows Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a progressive doctor who has been kicked out of every hospital that he has worked in because he believes in the existence of germs. Finally, he gains employment with a specialist doctor who treats women with ‘hysteria’ – the only cure for which is sexual gratification. But Granville’s hand begins to tire and rather than following the example of the French, he invents an electronic device that does the job five times as well. That’s right. A man called Mortimer Granville invents the vibrator.
Hysteria is actually very amusing – at least, the women in the screening I attended were laughing out loud, even if their husbands seemed to find it less hilarious – and although it follows a fairly clunky rom-com formula, there is still room for genuine wit. The period sets and costumes are delightful, which render even the ongoing jokes about ‘whether this newfangled device the telephone will catch on’ tolerable.
It’s puerile and all-too-obvious at times – both in terms of thinly-veiled vagina jokes and formulaic plot – but the ribbing of Victorian views about sexuality and gender is welcome. It’s not very titillating – but it is good, clean fun.