Today: April 13, 2024
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Hysteria

***Warning! This review contains smutty euphemisms***

***Warning! This review
contains smutty euphemisms***

There’s
a certain buzz about Hysteria.

It’s
one of those previously untold, mostly true, stories where Brits discover
something about themselves through dancing or brass bands or nudity. Here it’s
sex; how at the very height of Victorian prudishness, a quack doctor and a
dilettante experimenter invented the vibrator.

Or
how, just when women were pressing for emancipation in the workplace and the
voting booth, they were liberated in the bedroom. In doing so it rubs
the engorged tip of Merchant Ivory against the sweet spot of Carry On, and
sometimes hits the mark.

Hysteria’s
hero is Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy),
an eligible young doctor on his uppers. Having been flicked
off from job after job, he falls into a plumb role with Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), a patrician physician
who deals exclusively with the phenomenon of the age – ‘hysteria’, a catch-all
diagnosis encompassing irrationality, irritability, inconsistency and other
traits familiar to anyone who’s ever known a woman.

His
treatment is the laying of his thumb, right where it counts, in one-hour sessions.
It’s heralded as one of the great Victorian advances, up there, alongside
penicillin. Most of the resultant laughs – when not O-based – rib the mores and
morals of the time, and how even in that era of great progress many were, at
best, misguided.

So
Dalrymple’s waiting room is full of dowagers, widowers and ladies both of a
certain age and who lunch, all of whom will have what she’s having. But being
uptight, respectable types, the notion that their curative is anything other
than medicinal is never a possibility for the good doctors.

So
Granville also gets to chastely woo Dalrymple’s youngest daughter, Emily the
English Rose (Felicity Jones), and bicker with
his eldest Charlotte, a firebrand played as so modern by Maggie Gyllenhaal she’s probably on Twitter. Charlotte’s the only
woman in London who Granville rubs up the wrong way so of course they’re
perfect for each oher. Meanwhile, his healing hands get laid on so often (the
clinic’s waiting list runs into the Edwardian era) that he cramps up.

But
his friend, the eccentric, monied Rupert Everett,
is experimenting with electrickery and before you can say gizmo! Sheridan Smith, a Nancy-tart with a
heart, has the pleasure of the world’s first auto climax. And the second…

Everett’s
the best thing in Hysteria – a painted pantomime dame, a chunky Charles
Hawtrey, sex-farce a specialty. Gyllenhaal is earnest while Dancy is
serviceable, eyeing the verdant Firth-Grant uplands where life is sweet for a
man with a strong chin and a stutter.

It’s
all good-natured, undemanding and fluffy. It’s a romp, enlivened sporadically
by the type of bawdy, low humor with which the British continue to lead the
world.

One thumb up, missus…

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