Rated: M

Director: Tanya Wexler

Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones

Screening: Newcastle, Tuggerah

Rating: **1/2

TANYA Wexler’s Hysteria has some wonderfully absurd moments. It’s almost too good to be true – as the opening titles assure us, the film is ‘‘based on true events. Really’’.

It’s an account of the way in which medical intervention in the lives of Victorian women led to the invention of the vibrator.

Writers Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer have set this potentially subversive story within a romantic comedy scenario, with Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville, a modern-minded doctor who is rather traditional when it comes to views on women, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Charlotte Dalrymple, an idealistic feminist.

Granville stumbles into a successful practice devoted to relieving a wide range of female afflictions diagnosed as ‘‘hysteria’’, in which the universal panacea is a massage of a particularly intimate kind. He seems blissfully unaware of the way in which he is catering to his patients’ needs, and rather vague about sexual politics. But Charlotte is there to educate him in the error of his ways.

Despite the efforts at playfulness, and the intrinsic fascination of the material, the joke becomes a little laboured and the combination of elements – a rhetoric-laden romcom romp – wears rather thin in the end.

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