Restoration based on the novel by Rose Tremain
Restoration is not the best film one can see, but it is worthwhile entertainment, winner of two Academy Awards – granted, in the categories of the less followed Best Costume Design and Art Direction- benefiting from a tremendous cast…
Robert Downey Jr. Plays the hero, Doctor Merivel, Sam Neill – who has more recently appeared in some very good, interesting independent films like Sweet Country and Hunt for the Wilderpeople – appears as King Charles II, David Thewlis is the friend of the hero, John Pearce, Meg Ryan has the part of Katharine, Ian McKellen is Will Gates and finally, Hugh Grant is the painter Finn.
With this outstanding line up and a decent script, topped with a reasonable director, Restoration could not miss and is indeed a very watchable, entertaining motion picture, in spite of the fact that the first part seems to break somewhat without a real, flowing connection with the second, last chapter.
Robert Merivel is an aspiring, daring doctor, who shows courage and stamina in an early scene, wherein a man who has had an accident is brought to the fore, because he has an…opening on his chest, through which we can see his beating heart.
This victim invites Pearce to have more than just an astonished look, put the hand on his live organ, for he declares to be beyond fearing, feeling or both, but there is reluctance in the audience and it is Robert who grasps the organ, without the possessor showing any reaction.
King Charles II is in the wings of the hall where this scene is taking place, admires the daring of the young man, instructs an adviser to bring him to the court, where he mentions that he needs Merivel – what a lovely name his majesty remarks – to care and cure a dear patient.
That proves to be a dog – apparently a Cocker Spaniel – who is very sick, does not get much better as a result of the efforts of the hero, furthermore, soon expires, is placed into a coffin, only to…make noises from inside, where he is miraculously brought back into existence.
The good doctor is not just praised, lavish prizes are poured upon him, the king gives him the benefit of luxury at the palace, the graces of a wondrous entourage, young, exulting women, the immense pleasures of the court, exquisite gardens, probable orgies and life in Eden.
The talents of the protagonist are put to use…he can fart at will, therefore he plays a sort of god of wind on the outdoors stages where the damsels laugh at his acting, but the king has a more elaborate plan for the elevated doctor, explaining that one mistress is angry with the presence of another.
His royal highness explains that Lady Celia has to be removed from the palace if war between the two rivals is not to break out, the solution being to marry this mistress, send her nearby, although the other would think that after matrimonial ceremonies the competitor is out of the picture.
Robert Merivel is to be the new husband, his majesty informs him, the ritual is performed, the cheering guests take a naked groom to the bed chamber to perform the consecrated rituals, where the expecting bride is kissing him elaborately, but after the companions are gone, they speak about their act of theater and the king appears in the wedding night bedroom.
The hero travels with his wife to the land and property bestowed upon him by the monarch, where a painting is commissioned, with Lady Celia as subject and the young painter Finn as author, portrayed by the excellent Hugh Grant.
Robert Merivel falls in love with the consort that is supposed to be a decorative spouse, without attachments, feelings or intimacy, as consequence he tries to obstruct the path of the one who is now his rival, his majesty, by lying about the portrait, the wishes of his wife in name only and the orders of the royal highness.
The efforts of the loving man to prolongue as much as possible the painting of the portrait, the reunification of the monarch with his mistress lead him to falsify a message from Charles II and the crime is witnessed by the painter, who informs the rules of the country.
The hero is punished severely, his land, property, indeed, everything he has had is confiscated and he is a destitute man who has known wealth, forced to look for his former friend, John Pearce, who lives with Quakers now and offers medical assistance to poor people.
There seems to be a disconnect between the period when the protagonist experienced the rich life and his descent into poverty, but caring for the poor and sick brings meaning to his life, he even experiments with what would later become psychology and mental health treatment.
Poor Katharine aka Meg Ryan has suffered from a severe trauma and seems to be mad when Robert Merivel starts treating her, alleviating her depression, showing kindness and trying a creative approach which attracts a rather preposterous opposition from Pearce and the other radicals – “Only Jesus can cure, nobody else can”…
Katharine seduces, provokes the doctor into having sex with her, then she shouts through the courtyard, in the rain, that Robert is her lover, leading to their expulsion and consequently an extreme, ultimate dedication from the one who becomes a role model and a Super Hero as he cares for the victims of the plague.