"I'll have what she's having," may have been coined 109 years before the events in Hysteria took place, but Nora Ephron's infamous line is just as applicable in Tanya Wexler's period romantic comedy that tells the story of the invention of the electric vibrator.
Yes, from Victorian times the Rampant Rabbit whence came - specifically 1880s London - and in the film we follow Joseph Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a doctor ahead of his time who finds a position at a leading women's medical practice, overflowing with ladies of leisure looking for relief from the symptoms of "hysteria". Through his subsequent treatment to induce "paroxysms" (aka orgasm) in the women of polite society, and with a little help from his wealthy and eccentric friend Edmund John Smythe (Rupert Everett), Granville invents the electronic device that has satisfied women the world over ever since.
Meanwhile, the earnest doctor has to consult his feelings for the two daughters of his employer Dr Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce). Although the virtuous Emily (Felicity Jones) would be the proper choice, Granville becomes surprisingly drawn to the voraciously outspoken Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), putting his engagement to the former in doubt.
With its light tone, there was just as light a narrative exploration to match in a script that seemed as mild-mannered as it's lead protagonist. What could have been a real opportunity to delve into this historically fascinating subject matter, and chronicle the evolving perception of womanhood, the script plays more like a sparknotes version of events. But thanks to an excellent cast filled with period drama pros, the film is lifted, especially by the likes of Rupert Everett and Sheridan Smith.
The eternal supporting actor, Everett shines yet again as Dancy's oddball companion dishing out a slew of one liners and innuendoes to comic delight. Whilst Sheridan Smith's star continues to grow brighter now she's made the tricky transition from TV to silver screen. As Molly, the 'reformed' prostitute, Smith is engaging to watch, drawing your attention in every scene she's in.
Sadly though, this was not the case for Felicity Jones whose talents seemed wasted in a 1-dimensional role that could have easily been taken on by an unknown actress.
Without a classic novel to use as a literary guide, Hysteria's script pales when put against the likes of Cranford and Nicholas Nickleby, but a gratifying ensemble cast performance provides a few good giggles to induce a cinematic paroxysm of your own.
Hysteria is out in UK cinemas now
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