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Originally published Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Hysteria': An amusing, if not hysterical, Victorian-era comedy

Actor Rupert Everett gives a star turn in "Hysteria," an unlikely comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review2.5 stars

'Hysteria,' with Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett. Directed by Tanya Wexler, from a screenplay by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer. 95 minutes. Rated R for sexual content. Harvard Exit, Grand Cinema.

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Tanya Wexler's "Hysteria" is just a simple little Victorian-era period film, full of pretty costumes and clever remarks, about the invention of the vibrator. Funny that Merchant-Ivory somehow never got around to covering this topic.

The words "Based on a true story. Really." kick things off on screen, an indication that we're in for something lighthearted. And off we go: It's 1880 London, and Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a handsome young doctor with modern ideas who takes a position in the office of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), a specialist in a rather specific form of, shall we say, intimate massage. Mortimer is soon popular with the patients — they feel so very much better after their "treatment" — but finds that his hands are tired. His inventor friend, who boasts the impressive name of Edmund St. John Smythe (Rupert Everett, a man born to play characters named Edmund St. John Smythe), suggests an alternative: an electric massager, adapted from his earlier invention of an electric feather duster.

Meanwhile, Mortimer gets engaged to Dr. Dalrymple's demure daughter (say that three times fast) Emily, played by Felicity Jones. But he's increasingly intrigued by her older sister Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal, trotting out a nice British accent), a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house for impoverished women and children — and who dares to wear a fetching strapless gown to a party.

For a movie about Victorian vibrators, it's fairly predictable, and certainly lighter-than-light: "Hysteria" is one of those films that fades quickly from the memory, all pleasantness and little substance. But its 95 minutes move along nicely, and Everett — languid as a cat in a sunbeam — makes his too-brief scenes into master classes of comedy. "I can swear I never met that horse before in my life," he says, smooth as paint, and you don't even need to know the context; he, if not the film, is perfection.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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