Hysteria: Tanya Wexler’s Titillating Tale of Inventing the Vibrator

More titillating than provocative and far less entertaining than director Tanya Wexler might have hoped for, Hysteria is a serio-comedy with romantic touches about the invention of the vibrator.

Set in London in the 1880s, during the height of the rigid and prudish Victorian society, the tale, credited to scribes Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, centers on a brilliant young doctor, Mortmer Granville (played by the gifted Hugh Dancy), who takes modern science seriously,

But despite rigorous efforts, he fails to gain respect from his peers, who deem his “germ theory” and other experimental notions as just products of fads and fashions in ideas.

Things change when the nearly desperate doctor meets an older colleague, Dr. Robert Dalrymple (the always reliable Jonathan Pryce), who is considered and occupies the enviable position of “London’s foremost sepecialist in women’s medicine.”

It turns out that Dalrymple’s area of expertise is hysteria, a vague malaise that’s diagnosed so freely and irresponsibly that it could describe a large segment of London’s female population.

To ease the stress and anxiety of his female patients the aforementioned doctor has invented a tool and a form of therapy, which involves the manual stimulation of certain private parts.

Dr. Dalrymple may or may not be aware that his housewives suffer from something simpler and more basic, the need for sexual expression and activities.

Rupert Everett is well cast as the goofy mate, who is equally fascinated with the invention of gadgets aimed to increase physical and other pleasures.

Also contributing to the rather slender tale are the doctor’s relationships with his two vastly different daughters, the eloquent and well-spoken Emily (Felicity Jones), and especially the outspoken Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who runs a settlement home.

Clearly, “Hysteria” wants to make significant commentary on the early emergence of the women’s liberation movement, but as written and directed, the film lacks wit, real humor, and irony.

If memory serves, “Hysteria” is Wexler’s third feature in the director’s checkered career, following the disappointing “Finding North” in 1998, and “Ball in the House” in 2001.