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lotl.com • Lesbians On The Loose Magazine
hen director Tanya Wexler was
presented with an idea to make
a romantic comedy about the
invention of the vibrator in
Victorian England, she belly-laughed.
the openly gay
Wexler was determined to find the
funny side – and the sex jokes have
just kept on coming. Boom tish.
“A lot of films that are directed at
women are kind of very like ‘who wants
to get married’ and that’s fine, but
it’s not all we want,” she tells LOTL.
“A thinking woman’s romantic
comedy is kind of what I went for.”
It’s an achievement considering the
severe situation for women in the 1880s.
Many were considered to suffer from
hysteria, a catch-all phrase for female
maladies including irritability, moodiness,
loss of libido and even toothache.
Women with extreme symptoms
could be shipped off to the mental
asylum or given forced hysterectomies.
The wealthy set, however, found
relief through physicians such as Robert
Dalrymple ( Jonathon Pryce) who would
manually massage a lady’s privates to
elicit a “peroxism”, a strictly medical
release of ner vous tension: a screeching ,
yes-yes-yes kind of release. Yes, really.
Led by Maggie Gyllenhaal in what Wexler
calls her “dream cast”, Hysteria is based
on true events. It centres on Dr Mortimer
Granville (Hugh Dancy), a progressive
young doctor who joins Dalrymple to cure
afflicted women, now lining up down the
street. When his technique is hampered
by an over-worked wrist, his career is
saved by his friend, Edmund St. John-
Smythe (Rupert Everett), a rich inventor
who creates a vibrating electric feather
duster. It doesn’t remain a duster for long.
“ The vibrator was invented for a guy,”
Wexler saysdryly. “It was a labour-savingdevice
for a man whose hand got tired. We make a
joke about it but that’s really what it was.”
Despite its Victorian setting , Hysteria
offers a modern sensibility thanks to its fast
pace, subversive humour courtesy of Everett
and naughty prostitute-turned-maid Molly
(Sheridan Smith) and the love stor y between
Mortimer and Dalrymple’s firebrand,
politically rebellious daughter, Charlotte
(Gyllenhaal). It’s she who gets the snappy lines
and is the only one who states the obvious:
playing with a woman’s bits is quite fun for her.
“She’s that Katharine Hepburn, that
Emma Thompson character,” Wexler
says. “She’s that character I would have
wanted to be had I lived back then. I don’t
know if I would have been brave enough,
but I would have liked to think so.”
It’s an era of change: electricity
and the telephone have just been
invented, and women’s rights are making
their way into polite conversation.
Mortimer’s journey from screwball
misogynist to progressive husband is ably
assisted by Everett’s character, who is gay.
“My attitude, there’s been gay people as
long as there have been people and the point
of every gay character’s existence is not that
they’re gay,” Wexler says. “He (Mortimer) has
friends and companions so women were these
alien creatures. I think in a way he would have
been more open to gay men in a Victorian era
than he was to really understanding women.”
Wexler says she has always considered
herself a feminist, and has been very active
in the LGBT community with her wife
about gay marriage and equal rights, but
the film enhanced her political sensibilities.
“ This film caused me to evolve,” she
confesses. “People are often so hung up on
the things we walk around with all day - our
bodies and what they’re supposed to do. It
took me making this film to get over a lot
of that. I am just much more comfortable
with who I am in that way, as a woman.”
Hysteria is now playing at cinemas.
Who better to make a film
about the invention of the
vibrator than a lesbian?
Cathy Anderson discovers
the buzz surrounding Hysteria.
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