Popular with the clinic's patients, Granville is on track to become a partner in the practice and to marry Dalrymple's demure and pretty daughter Emily (Felicity Jones). But as his appointment book fills up, the hand Granville uses to treat the women becomes sore and fatigued. In addition, to the disapprobation of his boss, Granville is enlisted by Dalrymple's feminist troublemaker daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to perform an emergency medical service for a woman who works with her at the charity she's established in the East End.
In telling the story of the invention of the vibrator, Hysteria is inelegantly literal. It works backwards from modern knowledge and hits the points leading to the eureka moment too hard, especially in putting Granville's carpal tunnel pains with Edmund's electrical apparatus. Even worse, the clinic's patients are mere caricatures, existing only as props to be handled like puppets in the doctor's office. Despite trying to appear as their champion, the script's light treatment of them is belittling. They're insulted in speeches by both the doctors who profit off their diagnosis as well as Charlotte, who, instead of offering the same sympathy she gives to her charity cases, calls them bored, undersexed bourgeoisie housewives.
In fact, most of the cast is woefully underused. Ashley Jensen's perfect comedic timing has no outlet with her small part, and Sheridan Smith's oversexed maid is embarrassing. Only Rupert Everett as dilettante Edmund is used to his best ability but that's only because he's chronically underused in film, and here he looks bloated and tired and delivers lines more crass than usual.
Overall, Hysteria attempts to be amusing fail because of its inability to actually address the kink in its subject matter. Despite its R rating, the film blandly stutters through its scenes, both making fun of the women suffering with a diagnosis of hysteria and stridently criticizing the injustice. Most telling is that the film's moment of victory—after Charlotte narrowly escapes an unnecessary procedure due to her own diagnosis—is deflated by the postscript explaining doctors didn't stop diagnosing women with hysteria until decades later. What's the point?