This is a fun, astringent comedy set in dark and prim Victorian England, when doctors were aware women had symptoms of “hysteria” but couldn’t quite connect them with sexual and psychological frustration. Tut, tut, Victorian doctors.
Rather than being scathing on the Victorian mindset toward sex (definitely not something to be enjoyed) and gender inequality (women couldn’t vote, voice their opinions or have orgasms), director Tanya Wexler opts for a more subtle approach on the rather ribald subject matter of vibrators.
The first vibrator, as invented here by Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), is a crude and clunky piece of electronic gadgetry, but it certainly does the trick — replacing a treatment known as “pelvic massage,” administered by posh Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) with well-oiled hands.
Cue the entrance of Dr. Granville, hired to take the load off Robert, which basically means: out with the human touch, in with the clinical machinery. Little wonder that Granville’s flirtation with Robert’s open-minded and spirited daughter Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plods along at a mulish pace. For all his ingenuity and handsome looks, the guy has no idea what a woman wants.