This lavish historical drama based on the acclaimed novel by Rose Tremain won Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction. Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Robert Merivel, a talented medical student of the 17th century who ignores his studies in favor of pursuing debauched fun — much to the dismay of his high-minded Quaker colleague John Pearce (David Thewlis). Merivel achieves the high societal status he covets when he’s summoned by King Charles II (Sam Neill). Merivel is surprise to find that he’s expected to care for the king’s ailing spaniel, but the dog rallies and Merivel joins the court. When one of Charles’ mistresses, Celia (Polly Walker) becomes a problem, Charles arranges her marriage to Merivel. In return for keeping Celia in a pretend marriage, he receives an estate and knighthood. Merivel, however, falls in love with Celia and, betrayed by an eccentric painter (Hugh Grant), incurs the king’s displeasure. Banished and stripped of his wealth, Merivel rediscovers love with an Irish mental patient (Meg Ryan). He also rediscovers his passion for medicine during London’s Great Fire and the Black Plague.
Genre: Drama , Romance
Director: Michael Hoffman
In Theaters: Wide
Runtime: 150 minutes
Restoration is one of the great overlooked gems of the 1990’s. This movie is beautifully shot and competently directed. It is based closely on the original novel, and also reminds me of some of the more juicy excerpts from Samuel Pepys Diary. The use of real historical locations in Britain is inspired, for instance, the Fire of London and Cheapside market scenes were shot at Caerphilly Castle, the 13th-century moat doubling for the 17th-century Thames. Robert Downey gives a highly respectable performance as Merivel (and has an excellent British accent), but Meg Ryan is totally mis-cast, seeming very lost in some scenes. Sam Niell is probably the best casting for a British Monarch since Alec Guiness as Charles the First in Cromwell, and Dudley Sutton as James the First in Orlando. One of the best performances, however, comes from David Thewlis in support. His moving scenes with Downey at Tretower Court steal the movie. ‘Restoration’ was filmed in 1994 and was delayed for release amid rumors of re-shooting scenes with Meg Ryan.
This movie has not been given the credit it deserves, and is an excellent depiction of court life and marriage politics during the reign of one of Britain’s most flamboyant monarchs.