Merchant Ivory meets Richard Curtis: that’s how Tanya Wexler describes her movie about the accidental invention of the vibrator in Victorian London. Throw in some English teatime bawdiness –‘Carry On’ style – and you’ve got it. Hugh Grant presumably being unavailable, Hugh Dancy does his stammering best as priggish Dr Mortimer Granville.
He lands a job with a doctor (Jonathan Pryce) specialising in the massage of ladies’ most delicate area. Not for pleasure, mind, but as a cure-all for hysteria (‘the plague of our time!’). All goes swimmingly until the doc comes down with a severe case of RSI – and dreams up a contraption involving this new-fangled electricity business. All of which is silly, lightweight fun, and never has the ‘loosely’ in ‘loosely based on real events’ been more loose.
What keeps Hysteria on the right side of penny-dreadful farce are two first-rate performances. Maggie Gyllenhaal shines as a screwball suffragette. And Rupert Everett (channelling Oscar Wilde) has the film’s best line. When Granville complains of a sore wrist, he quips: ‘I believe the French have had a lot of success with their tongues.’