“Ladies. God bless them. What would do we without them?”

I know that quote, from The IT Crowd episode “Aunt Irma Visits”, has nothing to do with “Hysteria”, the movie I’m about to review (other than the fact they’re… both British?), but I think it’s appropriate. “Hysteria” is, after all, a movie about the invention of the electric vibrator.

Thanks to Cracked, I know that back in Victorian time, any woman with some kind of vague mental complaints (otherwise known as the sh*t you have to deal with as a woman in Victorian time) could be diagnosed with “female hysteria” and cured by, to quote Cracked, “a doctor’s hand down your bloomers until you weren’t only thinking of England but screaming its name.” Against that historical background, we have Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville, a young doctor who balks at the medieval medical practices of the time, and after getting fired from the hospital for lecturing his superior about germs, he only wants “to offer relief to my patients, with little chance of killing them.”

This brings him to the practice of Dr. Robert Darylmple (Jonathan Pryce, who apparently plays the pompous father in every British movie ever), the leading name in treating female hysteria. Granville becomes invested in securing a position with Dr. Darylmple, not just because here he can actually help his patients, but also because of Dr. Darylmple’s lovely daughter Emily (Felicity Jones). However, things get complicated with the appearance of Emily’s older sister Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a quick-tempered woman with feminist ideas.

The movie has captured me even from its disclaimer, “This story is based on true events. Really.” It is charming, funny, and the juxtaposition between the uptight Victorian setting and the R-rated premise gives it some truly hilarious moments. It was awkward because I watched it while my mom was in the room. I kept laughing out loud, so naturally she wanted to know what was so funny about a period movie, and I didn’t know how to explain to her. The pacing feels a little rushed toward the end, but that’s just my film student’s mind talking. The cast is really good too. Hugh Dancy is perfect for the idealistic Granville. I haven’t seen Maggie Gyllenhaal in any period piece before (not counting the time she played an actress in a period piece in Paris Je T’aime), but here I think she’s perfectly cast as well, and her British accent is quite convincing.

The costumes are not jaw-dropping or anything, but they’re well-done. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s costumes are about 15 years ahead of the time – the movie takes place in 1880 and she looks more like a Gibson Girl – but I don’t mind that too much because they work for her character.

It’s been a while since I saw a period movie that is not some “based on true events” Oscar bait. Irreverent, witty, and thoroughly enjoyable, “Hysteria” is a win for me.


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