Vibrators in the Old Century


18 May 2012| 1 Comment on Hysteria     by Sean Chavel


Historical piece for adults that is a naughty charmer. Hysteria is based on the true story (really!) of the accidental invention of the vibrator in 1880’s London. The dreamy handsome M.D. is played by Hugh Dancy (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Ella Enchanted”), who works as apprentice to the rigid Jonathan Pryce, who has treated all hysterical women suffering from weeping, nymphomania, melancholia, and anxiety by… well, vaginal fingering. It never occurs to the old doc that it should be mistaken with sexual stimulus. He’s getting old now, so he needs an M.D. with young hands. When Dancy gets a case of elbow cramps, he decides to make his own apparatus as a substitute. Voila, History is born!

Sounds like anything but endearing. But the movie actually is endearing! The period detail – the upper class duds, the horse carriages, the velvety décor – is all very top-notch. It’s like an old Merchant-Ivory production warped with titter-laugh naughtiness. The actual scenes of Dancy stimulating women in the stirrup chair is done somewhere in the middle – more than discreet but less than graphic. It is titillating enough, in case you had hoped.

Two ladies of the house represent Pryce’s daughters. One is very proper, the other is wayward and outspoken (Maggie Gyllenhall, “Crazy Heart” portrays her). The two of them play out a good enough love story, and oddly (if not anachronistically), they share a tenuous chemistry. Gyllenhaal of course doesn’t believe in half of her father’s endeavors, so it only makes sense that she secretly desires for Dancy to rebel as well. But she’s more fine than coarse as it turns out, and he’s more of a gentlemanly chap than a renegade.

95 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Dangerous Beauty” (1998); “The Widow of St. Pierre” (2001, France); “Chi-Hwa-Seon: Painted Fire” (2003, South Korea); “Mrs. Henderson Presents” (2005).


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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    hashbrowny says,


    This sounds like a scandalously funny movie. I never would have paid attention to it if it wasn’t for your positive review. Looking forward to it!


    on May 21, 2012


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