Hysteria (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Hysteria</strong> (2011)

(On Cable TV, February 2013)  The British film industry has, by now, perfected the science of transforming transgressive subjects into nice little harmless comedies.  From male stripping to The Fully Monty, from naked geriatric photography to Calendar Girls, from cross-dressing to Kinky Boots… Well, why not?  After those precedents, seeing Hysteria make a gentle period comedy out of the invention of the first vibrator is almost expected.  Hugh Dancy stars as a young doctor whose hand-cramps lead to the creation of an assistive mechanical device, but the real subject of the film is a discussion of the ways women were treated in Victorian England, with medical jargon being used to paper over a real disparity in status.  Hysteria isn’t very subtle about this thematic focus (it’s definitely a modern film congratulating itself for not being Victorian England), but the overall light tone keeps things from getting too ponderous.  The film can depend on the innate charm of Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal (in a provocative companion piece to Secretary), with occasional assistance by Rupert Everett in a handful of flashy scenes.  Enjoy the lighthearted atmosphere, but don’t try to fact-check the film against the real history of the electrical vibrator.

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