Hysteria (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 18, 2012 by  

A fascinating comedy about how hysteria was treated for women in the 1800’s and how it would lead to the invention of the vibrator.  If you want to learn the origin of the vibrator, the film and its accompany documentary on Blu-ray will surely entertain and educate you.  Fun, naughty and entertaining, Hysteria” on Blu-ray is recommended.

Images courtesy of © 2011 Hysteria Films Limited, Arte France Cinema and By Alternative Pictures S.A.R.L. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Hysteria


DURATION: 99 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Hindi, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (for Sexual Content)

Release Date: September 18, 2012

Directed by Tanya Wexler

Screenplay/Story by Stephen Dyer/Jonah Lisa Dyer

Original Story by Howard Gensler

Produced by Tracey Becker, Judy Cairo, Sarah Curtis

Co-Produced by Bo Bellion, Jimmy de Brabant, Anouk Nora

Executive Produced: Kenneth Atchity, Claudia Bluemhuber, Eric Brenner, Stephen Dyer, Peter Fudakowski, James Gibb, , Leo Joseph, Nathalie Joseph, Hakan Kousetta, Mark Kress, Sandra Siegal, Michael A. Simpson

Music by Gast Waltzing

Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt

Edited by Billy A. Campbell, Jon Gregory

Casting by Gaby Kester

Production Design by Sophie Becher

Art Direction by Bill Crutcher, Keith Slote, James Wakefield

Set Decoration by Charlotte Watts

Costume Design by Nic Ede


Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dlrymple

Jonathan Pryce as Dr. Robert Dalrymple

Felicity Jones as Emily Dalrymple

Rupert Everett as Edmund St. John-Smythe

Ashley Jensen as Fannie

Sheridan Smith as Molly

In an age of invention, one man set out to find a medical cure for what ailed women and accidentally electrified our love lives forever. HYSTERIA is a lighthearted romantic comedy that tells the surprising story of the birth of the electro-mechanical vibrator at the very peak of Victorian prudishness. Academy Award® nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal (Best Supporting Actress, CRAZY HEART, 2009) and Hugh Dancy (ADAM, CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC) lead an accomplished cast in this untold tale of discovery.

Who created the vibrator?

Perhaps this thought may have occurred to you once before?  Maybe not.

For the 2011 film “Hysteria”, directed by Tanya Wexler (“Finding North”, “Ball in the House”) and writers Stephen and Jonah Lisa Dyer, they explore the invention of the device.  But instead of presenting a film that you would imagine to be sexually naughty, they present the film to show how the invention of the device was due to how women’s hysteria (nervousness, loss of appetite, stress, sexual desire) was treated back in the late 1800’s.

Long ago, female hysteria was once-common medical diagnosis that dates back for hundreds and possibly thousands of years.  And the diagnosis and treatment for hundreds of years was through pelvic massage, rather the manual stimulation of the vulva by a doctor trained in producing of what was called “hysterical paroxysm”.  It was realized later on that “hysterical paroxysm” would be better known as an “orgasm”.

And one of those doctors who treated women was Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, the man, along with an inventor would go on to create the first electromechanical vibrator (which would be known as Granville’s Hammer) in 1883.

With the film “Hysteria”, while not entirely a factual biography of Granville’s life, the film is based on a true story.

The British film would star Hugh Dancy (“Black Hawk Down”, “King Arthur”, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”), Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Dark Knight”, “Donnie Darko”), Jonathan Pryce (“Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “Brazil”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”), Felicity Jones (“Like Crazy”, “The Tempest”), Rupert Everett (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”, “Shrek” films) and Ashley Jensen (“Ugly Betty”).

And now, “Hysteria” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in Sept. 2012 courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Hysteria” is set in the 19th Century, during a time where women were treated for their hysteria by massaging the vulva/genital area of a woman to produce a “paroxysmal convulsion” and among the men who specialized in it was Dr. Robert Dalrymple (portrayed by Jonathan Pryce).  Dr. Robert Dalrymple is a reputable man who has two daughters, the kind and proper Emily (portrayed by Felicity Jones) and her older sister, the rebellious Charlotte (portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhaal), a pre-modern feminist.

Robert needs another to help him in his practice, so he hires a young doctor named Dr. Mortimer Granville (portrayed by Hugh Dancy) and as Mortimer learns how to treat women through his training sessions observing Dr. Dalrymple, he starts to date Emily.

And as Dr. Granville becomes well-known for his work, the practice begins to gain a good following and more women start to come in.  But it also starts to affect Dr. Granville’s hand muscles and women start to feel that he is not being affective in bringing out their paroxysmal convulsions.  It embarrasses Dr. Dalrymple to have his popular clients feeling unfulfilled, that he has to fire Dr. Granville.

Staying with his friend Lord Edmunt St. John-Smythe (portrayed by Rupert Everett), an inventor trying to perfect his invention, an electronic feather duster.  While holding it, he starts to realize how soothing it feels on his hand courtesy of its vibrations.  And then Dr. Granville comes up with an idea, how about using this invention to create a vibrator that can be used to create paroxysmal convulsions, so a doctor no longer needs to use his hand?

And sure enough, he tests the new invention on Molly the Lolly (portrayed by Sheridan Smith) and in a short amount of time, he is able to produce three paroxysmal convulsions.  Shocked by the success of the device, what if Dr. Granville can utilize the device on a woman for treatment of hysteria?

Meanwhile, problems develop between Dr. Robert Dalrymple and his rebellious daughter Charlotte.  And as the family tends to avoid her, Dr. Granville starts to see the good in her and starts to fall for her.  But what of his relationship with Emily?


“Hysteria” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  First, I have to say that the costume design for this film is wonderful.  And watching this film in HD, definitely brings out the details of the Victorian style.  Closeups are well-detailed, skintones are natural, black levels nice and deep.  The film looks very good on Blu-ray and I detected no banding or artifact issues during my viewing of “Hysteria”.


“Hysteria” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and is primarily a dialogue driven film.  Aside from one case where the testing of the vibrator uses up the electricity and you hear a pop, the majority of the film is dialogue and its musical soundtrack.  Both are crystal clear and there is some use of surround channels during scenes featuring a crowd.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Hindi.


“Hysteria?” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an upbeat audio commentary by Director Tanya Wexler.
  • An Evening with Tanya Wexler, Hugh Dancy and Jonathan Pryce – (12:26) Director Tanya Wexler, Hugh Dancy and Jonathan Pryce answers questions from the audience at the Tribeca Film Festival.
  • Hysteria: Behind the Scenes – (5:41) A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film with the director, producers and talent of “Hysteria”.
  • Deleted Scenes – (2:52) Featuring four deleted scenes.
  • Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm – (43:07) A documentary on the origin of the vibrator and the treatment of hysteria.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:26) The original theatrical trailer for “Hysteria”.

I’m often curious about how things are invented, but when I saw the trailer for “Hysteria” and how it dealt with the invention of the vibrator, not only did it catch my eye, I was fascinated by the concept but also even more intrigued about how female hysteria was treated by doctors through genital massages to produce what would be know as an orgasm.

I never knew that there was such a medical disorder and that doctors were specially trained to handle such a thing.

And while the trailer may lead one to think that such a film would be naughty and doctors using such a practice for their own sexual desires, fortunately “Hysteria” is not that.  This was a longtime practice and belief that women had symptoms that can be alleviated by a pelvic massage and that a person can be alleviated of their stress, sexual desires, nervousness, muscle spasms via”hysterical paroxysm” (or orgasm).

And I can see in a medical sense, how the vibrator would be an important device for doctors at that time, because so many women were being treated, these doctors would suffer muscular cramps on their hands because some women would not respond and have a hysterical paroxysm so easily.

So, that was all intriguing to me and the story based on the creation of the vibrator because of the treatment of hysteria was fascinating.  Granted, although based on a true story, I’m not sure if the life of Dr. Mortimer Granville was as exciting.  His life was surely romanticized for “Hysteria” and given much humor, the film was entertaining.  Especially to see how a feather duster would eventually lead to the vibrator is amusing and how its presented is quite fun and hilarious.

“Hysteria” was no doubt an entertaining film thanks to its talents.  Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones and Rupert Everett were great.  And as for Maggie Gyllenhaal, I was worried how she would portray an English accent but sure enough, she did a magnificent job.

As for the Blu-ray release of “Hysteria”, while the picture quality and audio quality were very good, it’s the inclusion of the documentary “Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm” that I found educational and entertaining.  I had no idea that treatment of hysteria has gone on so long and was recorded by physicians.  But the amount of research that went into making this documentary was fascinating and to see how the perception of vibrators have changed.  From being featured to magazines in the distant past to some states having strict rules for women (especially the state of Dallas) who has no law of how many guns a man can have, but yet a woman who has more than five vibrators is breaking the law.  Interesting!

Overall, “Hysteria” is a fascinating and fun film that shows people of a past that probably, many have forgotten or didn’t know about.  But also how the invention of the vibrator came to be.  Fun, naughty and entertaining, “Hysteria” on Blu-ray is recommended.

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