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Review: 'Hysteria' is a feel-good movie about Victorians' secrets

Hysteria (R) (100 min.) — The women of Tanya Wexler's comedy aren't erotically liberated by Fifty Shades of Grey, living in an era when just mentioning sex would turn faces 50 shades of red.

It's 19th century England, where "modern" medicine features leeches, snake oil and clinical hand massage on a private spot causing "paroxysms" believed to heal any woman's ailments. Everyone is too repressed to suggest a connection between this and sexual arousal. Nobody dreams of what automation will do for this therapy and, let's say, private practices.

Hysteria is based on the true story of Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), who patented the first electromechanical vibrator, invented by a friend (Rupert Everett) as a feather duster. Mortimer uses it to ease his cramping hands, as the waiting room fills with stuffy dowagers demanding treatment from the handsome doctor. His colleague Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) is impressed, essentially handing over his prim daughter (Felicity Jones) for marriage.

Robert has another daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a feminist before her time. Charlotte is everything her father doesn't wish her to be, an activist for the poor and someone who doesn't mince words. It is only a matter of time before she and Mortimer realize they're made for each other.

Hysteria is a one-joke movie, but when a joke is told this well, it doesn't matter. Dancy's performance as Mortimer is bashfully classy, and Gyllenhaal fakes an English accent well to accompany her usual spunk. Wexler plays the story's inherent farce nature fairly straight. Nothing fancy but it gets the job done, like those vibrators chronologically noted in the end credits. B

Showing at BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg, Woodlands 20 in Oldsmar, Starlite 20 in Tampa.

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

Review: 'Hysteria' is a feel-good movie about Victorians' secrets 06/13/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 13, 2012 5:30am]
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