By Alice Shindelar
Hysteria, UK / France / Germany / Luxembourg, 2011
Directed by Tanya Wexler
Hysteria, directed by Tanya Wexler, serves up a particularly dark period of feminine history and covers it in doilies and pink sparkles, until macabre 19th-century England coughs out an unlikely romantic comedy with yet another clumsy male lead and a punchy female love interest. Worse yet, it’s not clear this film is a romantic comedy until the third act.
When I caught wind that a film with Maggie Gyllenhaal about the invention of vibrators would soon be released, Hysteria jumped to the top of my list of movies to see. The story follows Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a progressive young doctor who insists on washing his hands before operating on a patient, a revolutionary move at the time. Out of work, Granville applies for a job at the top clinic in London serving women with hysteria. His employer, Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) informs him “half the women in London are effected.” For close to 2,000 years of European history, hysteria referred to a catch-all medical condition thought to cause everything from depression, to headaches, to a disinterest in copulation with one’s 30-second husband, a.k.a. any woman who wasn’t happy with a life of childbirth, corsets, and overall slavery to men. Read More