Hysteria (2011 film)

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Hysteria (2011 film).jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed byTanya Wexler
Produced byTracey Becker
Judy Cairo
Sarah Curtis
Written byJonah Lisa Dyer
Stephen Dyer
Howard Gensler
StarringMaggie Gyllenhaal
Hugh Dancy
Felicity Jones
Music byGast Waltzing
Christian Henson
CinematographySean Bobbitt
Edited byJon Gregory
Informant Media
Beachfront Films
Forthcoming Productions
Chimera Films LLC
by alternative pictures
Delux Productions
Lankn Media
arte France Cinéma
Distributed byBIM Distribuzione
Release date
  • September 15, 2011 (2011-09-15) (Toronto)
  • November 17, 2011 (2011-11-17) (Russia)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$9,504,139 [1]

Hysteria is a 2011 British period romantic comedy film directed by Tanya Wexler. It stars Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal, with Felicity Jones, Jonathan Pryce, and Rupert Everett appearing in key supporting roles.[2] The film, set in the Victorian era, shows how the medical management of hysteria led to the invention of the vibrator.[2] The film's title refers to the once-common medical diagnosis of female hysteria.[citation needed]


Set at the end of 1880, the film depicts the invention of the vibrator. Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a young physician who has difficulty with his occupation due to constant arguments over modern medicine. He gets a job assisting Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose practice specializes in the treatment of "hysteria", a popular diagnosis for women of that time. Medical practitioners like Dr. Dalrymple tried to manage hysteria by massaging the genital area, decently covered under a curtain, to elicit "paroxysmal convulsions", without recognizing that they were inducing orgasms. Granville meets Dr. Dalrymple's daughters, Emily (Felicity Jones), and her older sister Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a premodern feminist who runs a settlement house in a poor section of London.

Granville seems to be good at massaging, getting a sizeable following, while at the same time Dr. Dalrymple suggests he might eventually take over the business and marry Emily. One night after work, Charlotte comes in with her friend Fannie (Ashley Jensen), who has broken her ankle. After he helps treat her, Dalrymple forbids Granville from offering any future assistance to Charlotte, hoping to dissuade her from her work in the slums. Meanwhile, the increased clientele at the practice is hard on Granville, and his hand musculature is unable to keep up with the task; an attack of cramp results in his dismissal. Fortunately, his friend, Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett), has developed an electrical feather duster, and its vibrations give Dr. Granville the idea of modifying the gadget for use as an electric massager. After successfully using it on the Dalrymple's maid Molly (Sheridan Smith), he persuades Dr. Dalrymple to try the device on his patients, resulting in massive success. Mortimer and Emily then become engaged, while Charlotte struggles with supporting the welfare house.

At the engagement party, Charlotte is arrested while protecting Fannie from a police officer. Emily and Dr. Dalrymple urge Granville to testify at her trial that she is hysterical in order to prevent her from being sent to prison. During the trial, the prosecutor recommends that Charlotte be sent to a sanatorium and be forced to undergo a hysterectomy. As Mortimer speaks, he explains that the symptoms for hysteria are too common to be regarded as a mental illness, and that he himself believes that Charlotte is the most generous and caring person he knows. The judge agrees with Mortimer's argument, and Charlotte is sentenced to just thirty days in prison for her assault on the policeman.

Emily decides to end her engagement to Granville, after realising her only motive was to please her father. The vibrator now enters the stage as a medical device for the treatment of the condition, reducing treatment time while greatly increasing customer satisfaction. The royalties from its sale result in independent wealth for Granville, who has fallen in love with Charlotte. Pledging to use some of his wealth to establish a clinic at her settlement house, he proposes marriage to Charlotte and she accepts.


Historical background[edit]

The film is based on historian Rachel Maines's 1998 book The Technology of Orgasm, which includes the claim that manual genital massage of women had been a common medical remedy since antiquity.[3] A 2018 paper by Hallie Lieberman and Eric Schatzberg dismisses this idea as false, with no more than "circumstantial evidence that a few physicians and midwives may have practiced genital massage before the 20th century".[4]

Hysteria was a recognized malady until the American Psychiatric Association discontinued this term in 1952.[3] Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville filed the first patent for an electromechanical vibrator termed Granville's Hammer in about 1883.[5] Granville, however, did not apply his invention in the treatment of hysteria; rather, he used it to treat muscular disorders. Some believe that other physicians started to apply the vibrator for the treatment of hysteria, but this claim is under dispute, with Lieberman and Schatzberg writing that Maines "fails to cite a single source that openly describes use of the vibrator to massage the clitoral area".[4]. [6].


The film received mixed reviews, garnering a score of 53 out of 100 (based on 33 reviews) at Metacritic.[7] Rotten Tomatoes reported a score of 58% based on 118 reviews and a consensus of "Hysteria has an amusing subject but its winking, vaguely sarcastic tone doesn't do the movie any favors."[8]


  1. ^ "Hysteria". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b Rachel P. Maines. "The Technology of Orgasm. The Job Nobody Wanted". The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5941-7.
  4. ^ a b Lieberman, Schatzberg. "A Failure of Academic Quality Control: The Technology of Orgasm" (PDF).
  5. ^ NNBD. "Joseph Mortimer Granville".
  6. ^ Meyer, Robinson and Fetters, Ashley. "Victorian Era Orgasms and the Crisis of Peer Review".CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Hysteria Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  8. ^ "Hysteria". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 24 February 2015.

External links[edit]