Tanya Wexler’s gift for narrative was never more in evidence than in the way she answered my first question. I wanted to know what it was like to see her film, HYSTERIA, with an audience for the first time. She responded with a raucous and vibrant prose poem on the exhilaration of filmmaking as a process, as well as what it was like to sit in the audience of the gala presentation at the films Toronto Film Festival premiere.
During the rest of our conversation on May 1, 2012, Wexler waxed loquacious on such topics as the use of sandbags to add conviciton to an actor’s performance, why medicine couldn’t see what was right in front of it when it came to women’s sexuality in the Victorian Era, and how a pocket vibrator changed the attitudes of cast and crew.
HYSTERIA is a romantic comedy that re-imagines the birth of the electric vibrator told as a wry and pointed consideration of science, culture, and how both of those things viewed women in the Victorian Era, and, further, how some women viewed that view. Hugh Dancy plays Dr. Mortimer Grenville, an idealist whose modern ideas about medicine render him unemployable in conventional practices. He finds a refuge with Dr. Robert Dalrymple, a physician with a thriving practice catering to an exclusively upper-class female clientele in search of relief for their, ahem, unfulfilled state by means of manual massage to paroxysm. So thriving that he needs another pair of hands, as it were, to meet the needs of his demanding patients. Grenville blithely leaves behind his idealism in favor of a more conventional idea of success, only to have his conscience pricked by Dalrymple’s unconventional daughter, Charlotte, an activist for social justice, even as he’s entering into a comfortable if passionless engagement with Dalrymple’s other daughter, the passive, and much simpler, Emily. The film co-stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones, and Rupert Everett as the noble bachelor with a penchant for modern gadgets and bon mots. Wexler directed from a script by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer.