A Wayback Film Recommendation: 1995’s “Restoration”

Clapboard & cinema reel

The age of Restoration, as the opening narrative of the film Restoration tells us, is a period in British history when King Charles rescued his country from strict Puritanical rule and fostered a carefree open-mindedness marked by scientific discoveries and medical advances which challenged long-held superstitions. But it is also the poignant story of the restoration of one man’s soul.

Young Dr. Robert Merivel, played brilliantly by Robert Downey Jr., is a physician who is more interested in partaking of the physical pleasures of the age than in curing anything. Spoiled and schooled by daddy’s money, he has no idea that he is perfectly poised in his profession to be part of the dawn of a new era. He is distracted by the new ’60s sexual revolution, 1660s that is. The monarchy and all of upper-crust society live in a whirl of wanton lust and debauchery, and Merivel craves this life of leisure. His destiny is set in motion the moment he becomes the first man to touch a living, beating heart. This draws the attention of his idol, King Charles himself, who requires such a man to heal his beloved…dog. Merivel subsequently becomes the royal veterinarian and is given his own estate complete with clothing designers and “playmates”, and oh yes, an arranged marriage with the king’s mistress, Lady Celia, played by beautiful Polly Walker, the only rule being, he is not to become attached to her, in any way. That’s like asking a happy dog not to wag his tail. Next thing we know, Merivel is living in the fetid squalor of London’s slums, treating patients in a sanitarium. All is not lost though. Merivel has a lot to learn about the potential that rests within him and the stimulus it needs to awaken it. This man may not understand the difference between love and lust, but he understands compassion; he understands friendship in its truest form, and it’s not at all far-fetched that the secret to stamping out the dreaded plague which is gutting the land rests in his unassuming mind.

It is obvious why Restoration won its two Oscars in 1996 for art design and costumes. The rich reds and golds of palatial splendor lavish a feast on the senses and are evocative of the story they are telling. A beautiful classical soundtrack brings this rich tapestry to life, as does a superb cast. Special mention should be made of Meg Ryan who plays a woman scarred by tragedy and wrongly labeled as crazy. Her convincing Irish accent makes her almost unrecognizable from the actress we know. Restoration is a journey in itself, and after we’ve traveled its dark roads we may find ourselves counting our blessings today.

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