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Film Review: Hysteria

6th October 2012

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Far from the expected filth, Hysteria is in fact a gentle, reasonably bawdy and at times quite sweet comedy with some vibrator jokes thrown in for good measure.

Hysteria Poster

The story goes that Mortimer Granville, an idealistic young doctor in Victorian London, is cast out from the medical profession due to his insistent belief in germ theory, an idea that is dismissed outright by the ageing medical elite.

After scouring all of London for a job, he is finally accepted into a practice that focuses solely on 'women's issues', or 'hysteria' as it was otherwise known, the treatment of which involved the use of fingers in a specific part of the female anatomy to, let's say, relieve a bit of stress.

After tiring his wrist out, Granville, with the help of his toff inventor friend played by a pitch-perfect Rupert Everett, hits upon the perfect invention to make his job that little bit easier; a vibrating relaxation device. But his success in Victorian society is compromised when he begins to fall for bosses daughter and suffragette Charlotte, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, a woman who goes against the grain of Victorian society in almost every way.

It's a film in which the subject matter is played for laughs in that extremely British wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way, with every line a double entendre and every facial expression a knowing wink to the audience; Carry On Vibrating essentially.

But unlike the Carry On films, Hysteria carries a feminist message that sits next to the bawdy jokes and it proudly wears on its sleeve. And while it certainly is funny, the film never really manages to marry the elements of jokes and message sufficiently, leading the lengthy feminist discussions between Charlotte and Mortimer to feel a little lacking in fun when compared with the rest of the joke-laden film, and the occasional satire on Victorian mores comes off as a little flat for exactly the same reason.

Add to this the fact that the slightly flimsy story begins to fall apart once the initial joke has run out of steam and it becomes obvious that what you're watching is hardly a classic.

But what it gets right – a good sense of humour, some fantastic performances and a sense of innocent fun in what must have been a tightrope walk of taste for the writers and directors – it delivers in spades for the first three quarters of the film. It's worth a watch for a good many laughs, but don't go in expecting anything more.

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