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Stars: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Gemma Jones, Anna Chancellor, Malcolm Rennie, Kim Criswell, Georgie Glen, Elisabet Johannesdottir.

Director: Tanya Wexler

In 1880 London, Dr Hugh Dancy, having attempted to introduce modern medical methods in a hidebound London hospital, loses his job and, after a series of abrupt rejections, lands a new post working for innovative physician Jonathan Pryce. Pryce specializes in treating women with ‘hysteria’ – an all-embracing term for women suffering from afflictions of the uterus that trigger such symptoms as “weeping, nymphomania, frigidity, melancholia and anxiety”.

Pryce has discovered relieving tensions in the uterus with massage can successfully treat hysteria. Dancy is hired and successfully gets down to the business in hand, finding time to romance Pryce’s demure daughter Felicity Jones before realising he prefers her ahead-of-her-time social worker Maggie Gyllenhaal. Unfortunately, hard work causes him to develop hand cramps and he is no longer able no longer administer a workable rubdown.

Fired, he takes refuge with his wealthy layabout friend and inventor Rupert Everett. There he finds and develops the prototype electrical vibrator…

The plot of Hysteria (original story by Howard Gensler and story and screenplay by Stephen Dyer and Johan Lisa Dyer) might sound rather like a bigger-budgeted upper crust 21st-century riff on the ’Carry On’ comedies. Actually it’s tastefully enough - within its own particular context - as proven by the 15 Certificate.

Mildly amusing, it's well acted by Dancy and Pryce, the latter in a rather thankless role, with Gyllenhaal working hard to bring her convention-breaking character to life but with rather limited impact. Everett enjoys himself and entertains the audience by creating yet another one of his languid Oscar Wilde-influenced characters.

The film (shot in England and Luxembourg) looks lush and in period and Wexler neatly sets the tone at the start by announcing, "This story is based on true events. Really”. The last sequence shows a pleased Queen Victoria accepting a gift of the latest vibrator. So no Royal Premiere, then.

Alan Frank

UK/France/Germany/Luxembourg 2011. UK Distributor: Sony. Colour.
99 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 20 Sep 2012