Liam Da n ie l / So ny P ic tures Class ics
Comedic film delves into treatment
of Victorian-age female "hysteria."
Special to the Jewish News
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Thanks for your 40 year friendship
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100 June 14 • 2012
ysteria is a film about man
and machine. Actually, it's
the story of women and a
machine, that machine being the elec-
It's set in 1880s Victorian London
and loosely based on the real-life
invention of a device that was thought
to cure all types of feminine ills. At
the time, the "epidemic of hysteria:'
thought to be caused by a "wander-
ing uterus:' was treated by "pelvic
hand massage" performed on clothed
women with their drawers off and
their feet up in stirrups, under a drape,
until they achieved a "paroxysm."
The film, directed by Tanya Wexler,
stars Hugh Dancy as Dr. Granville, a
germ-obsessed doctor who loses his
hospital position and goes to work
for Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce),
whose private practice treats the
"hysterical" upper-class women. The
doctors' "exhaustive physical labor"
is finally relieved when Dr. Granville
discovers another use for a prototype
of an "electric feather duster:'
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Dr.
Dalrymple's elder daughter, Charlotte,
a forward-thinking social reformer
who runs a settlement house for poor
women, much to the dismay of her
It is another well-crafted and intel-
ligent role for the Academy Award
nominee, who moves effortlessly
between roles in big budget films such
as Dark Knight and smaller, indepen-
dent projects like Crazy Heart. If there
is a commonality to them, it is that she
often portrays strong, smart and inde-
Strong, smart and independent
women run deep in her family.
"My grandmother was a pedia-
trician and her sister, who is my
great-aunt, was a lawyer and a judge
Gyllenhaal said in a recent telephone
interview. The other sister was an
opera singer, she said. They were first-
generation, and probably because their
parents were immigrants, there was a
different kind of pressure to succeed.
"I never knew my grandmother, but
I was close to my great-aunt Frieda,
who was the lawyer. I think it's kind of
amazing that all three of these women
so long ago were able to be as success-
ful as they were.
"My mom, [Naomi Foner
Gyllenhaal, nee Achs], also is interest-
ing and smart. She's a screenwriter
in her 60s and just about to direct
her first movie. She is very politically
active. I'm interested in interesting
women, and as I look around, not
everyone is. But those are the women I