By Christopher Null
Robert Downey's schizophrenic personality has finally found a home in Restoration. This sweeping film, set in 1660 England during the reign of the flamboyant Charles II (Sam Neill), tells the story of Merivel (Downey), who rides a rollercoaster from volunteer surgeon to King's veterinarian, to his fall from grace and his eventual rebirth.
Merivel, the kind of guy who pawns his medical instruments to buy time with prostitutes, starts out as a pretty loathsome chap. However, he's also a pretty talented (and daring) physician, and after healing the King's beloved spaniel, he is brought into the fold of nobility. But the story then takes an inexplicable turn as Merivel is given a knighthood and coerced to marry the King's mistress, Celia (Polly Walker), and then promptly falls in love with her.
And just when you get used to this, he is discovered and cast out, penniless. Merivel returns to caring for the poor with his old friend Pearce (David Thewlis), and falls in love with one of his insane patients, Katherine (Meg Ryan, cast as an Irish mental patient, if you can imagine that). And then there's the plague and the big fire that burned down London, and Merivel somehow comes out of this a hero and a changed man to boot.
A downright silly script is the fundamental flaw in Restoration. What starts out as a funny, genuine character-driven drama quickly degenerates into a couple of bland love stories that don't even fit together. There's a lot of good acting here (with the notable exception of Ryan), but the parts don't give the stars a lot of room to work. Neill's King Charles is a true standout, pulling off the dichotomy between royal grace and bawdy humor with ease.
Restoration is also one of the most exquisitely rendered period pieces I've ever seen, replete with fully-laden palaces and disgustingly realistic plague victims. But details do not a movie make, and all-in-all, Restoration comes across as a film in which the sum of the parts is much greater than the picture as a whole.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 8th March 1996
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 10
Cast & Crew