Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a brilliant young doctor in London in the 1880s; he takes modern science as seriously as he does his solemn Hippocratic Oath. Unfortunately, his rigour goes unappreciated by most of his peers. They dismiss Dr. Granville's enthusiasm for what they deem fadish new ideasideas such as his "germ theory." And he finds himself bounced from employer to employer.
Mortimer is nearly ready to give up on medicine altogether when he meets Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), London's "foremost specialist in women's medicine." That lofty title means that Dalrymple is an expert in "hysteria," a malaise diagnosed so liberally that Dalrymple hypothesizes at least half the city's women are sufferers. To ease these patients' stress, he has developed a form of therapy that involves the careful manual stimulation of a certain female body part. In this period of sexual repression, it never occurs to Dalrymple that these housewives are experiencing something more basic and natural than a mysterious epidemic of insanity: horniness.