Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal play a couple clashing with the mores of their time while falling for one another in “Hysteria,” a romantic comedy with a provocative premise.
The film, a fictionalized period piece from director Tanya Wexler, is a romantic comedy featuring the inventor of the vibrator.
Mortimer Granville (Darcy), a young doctor in 1880 England, is fired after speaking out against the established practices of his boss: bleeding, leeches and the like. He's encouraging instead looking at the latest scientific journals, which posit the existence of germs, and wants doctors to instead do things to fight infection.
He moves on to work for Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who maintains a busy practice treating well-off London women for “hysteria” by massaging the genital area. The doctor hires the young, dashing Mortimer to assist.
Meanwhile, Mortimer is smitten by Dalrymple's daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones), and Dalrymple hints that someday Mortimer might inherit both practice and daughter. Mortimer finds Dalrymple's other daughter, Charlotte, (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a proto-feminist who runs a settlement house, to be aggressive and overbearing, but also strangely alluring.
The practice grows quickly. But before long, Mortimer has developed carpal tunnel. He's discharged by Dalrymple, and down on his luck again — until a meeting with a dilettante investor friend (Rupert Everett) leads to the creation of an electric massager. Shortly, Mortimer's back in Dalrymple's good graces.
The premise is intriguing, though the script plays fast-and-loose with history to mold it into a romantic comedy. Despite often-enchanting performances, the film comes off slow and predictable, particularly in the second half.
The design and costumes are both well-done, and the film is ultimately agreeable but forgettable despite the potentially provocative premise.
— Matthew Price