A rom-com about the invention of the sex toy? Yep you heard us right. Hysteria – out this week and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy – is this year’s most unlikely film. Here Anna Smith talks to director Tanya Wexler about why her film is causing such a buzz…
‘It’s a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England.’ So went the producers’ pitch that instantly persuaded American director Tanya Wexler to make Hysteria. “I laughed my ass off!” she tells Grazia. “I said, ‘I have to make that!’”
And so came one of the least likely films to have hit cinemas this year – the story of a mild-mannered doctor (Hugh Dancy) who accidently invented the world’s first electronic vibrator as a treatment for “hysteria”.
In the 1880s, the term hysteria was used by men to describe a host of “women’s troubles”, including depression, anxiety and too little – or much – sexual appetite. But forget pill popping or psychotherapy – the commonly prescribed treatment was for a doctor to use his hands to er, relieve female patients while a small pair of velvet curtains covered their modesty.
In the film, it all proves a bit tiring for Dr Glanville, who develops carpal tunnel syndrome and decides to try an electrically powered duster to give his hands a rest….cue a lot of very grateful women.
Hysteria is more amusing period comedy than erotic thriller. Dancy’s naïve doctor is pitted against Maggie Gyllenhaal’s headstrong proto-feminist, who has little time for his outdated views on women. Romance, inevitably, ensues. ‘We wanted this Hepburn/Cary Grant style plot,’ says Wexler. ‘I would say if Richard Curtis and Merchant Ivory and Jane Austen had made a movie baby, this is it.’ The film also stars British talent Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett and Jonathan Pryce and Sheridan Smith – who has the difficult job of ‘testing’ the new device.
‘The plot is very much an invention but all the historical and medical facts are true,’ says Wexler. ‘They didn’t think of women as having orgasms then. The joke isn’t about a vibrator, it’s about denial: can you believe this is happening under their noses and they don’t even realise it?’
Forty-two-year-old Wexler, who has a female partner, admits she’s had her own embarrassing run-ins with airport security over vibrators in her luggage. ‘It’s funny. I know I made the vibrator movie so you’d think I’d be completely immune to embarrassment but at first there was still a little bit of self-judgement. But now I proudly walk through.’
Hysteria is out in cinemas tomorrow