The setting for “Hysteria” is 1880s London. Medical advances in sanitation and germ theory are part of the new thinking, although most doctors still rely on leeches and elixirs for the treatment of almost everything.
Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is frustrated with the old-school medics and is continually fired by one clinic after another for his bold new ways of medicine.
It’s in this moment of desperation that he agrees to work for a Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who runs a successful practice treating the malady in women known as Hysteria.
This anxious condition presents in an array of symptoms from insomnia and depression to cramps and sexual anxiety. The treatment — if I may be so bold — involves the manual stimulation of the female nether region by a trained clinician who is working behind a curtain for the sake of privacy and propriety.
The good doctors have more patients than they can physically treat, but with the onset of electricity, a vibrating motor proves to be most effective in dealing with the hysteria. The device is affectionately called the “Jolly Molly” after a brave woman who willingly serves as a test subject.
I should mention that a love story develops between the young Mortimer and one of his employer’s lovely daughters, while the other daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) fights against societal mores and cares for the poor, but that’s not really the crux of this movie.
It’s a lot more fun to see these uptight Brits tackle this delicate subject with wit and whimsy, although it’s pretty much a one-note joke for most of the movie.
Still, I’m told it’s fairly historically accurate and so I recommend “Hysteria” for the right crowd — the ones who know what the heck I’ve been talking about for the past few paragraphs. Otherwise, surprise, surprise!