Europe of the 1600's has often been an overlooked era, sandwiched between the idealism and art of the Elizabethan/Shakespearean Age (late 1500s) and the Enlightenment of the 1700's. In many ways, 1600s England was a transitional time reflecting the growth of England toward a modern sensibility while still being hindered by the traditions and outlooks of the past, primarily the hold of Medieval thought which held to a strict hierarchical strata while discouraging and even destroying the pursuit of knowledge and truth.
Robert Downey Jr. does a tremendous job as a character that appears to be a fore-runner of the coming Enlightenment. He is a physician on the verge of ground-breaking new scientific discoveries in the area of medicine. However, through a serendipitous and at first fortuitous run-in with King Charles II, the Restoration monarch (played brilliantly by Sam Neill), Downey loses his way and becomes a willing pawn in the king's sexual chess games. He even forsakes his precious medical texts to a colleague. In return, Downey gains a royal title, a royal tract of land, servants, and a wife. The only stipulation that is placed upon him: He cannot touch his own wife--she ultimately belongs to the King as one of his many mistresses.
In this way, Charles II is still a monarch enacting a role that was first prescribed in the Middle Ages: that of the absolute ruler with absolute authority that can use his subjects for his own whims, and he can also discard those that are no longer useful. Simultaneously, there is another side to Charles II. Although he is the son of his late father Charles I, Charles II is the heir to Cromwell who devoted time and money to philanthropic projects, such as the study of science and medicine, the improvement of architecture, and the creation of schools. Charles II continues the enterprises begun by Cromwell and becomes a transitional monarch who has aspects that reflect both the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment.
In many ways, Restoration is about these two worlds, and how Downey lives in both of them, from the luxurious life of a nobleman to the humble physician working with Quakers in an insane asylum. The king is also a person caught in both worlds. At first he appears the selfish ruler using his subjects as chess pieces in a large game in which he is always the bona fide winner. But then in another scene, we see him as a kind of philanthropic monarch financing and encouraging scientific and liberal research and discourse. In an interesting scene, Downey enters a kind of laboratory in which knowledge, research, and discovery are are being supported by the king who presides over the work of many scholars. Behind him is a strange swirling circus-like representation of the cosmos. We can't quite tell if the representation depicts the earth as the center of the Universe or the Sun, as if this notion is still being debated. But to his credit, the king is allowing for debate--something a Medieval king under a Medieval Church would have never allowed. Later, we learn that Downey is also an amateur astronomer, gazing at the stars in the heavens with a telescope.
Through his adventures in and out of these worlds, Downey sees the light and dark of both and becomes something greater than he had before, particularly through an episode in which he falls in love with one of the patients (Meg Ryan) at the insane asylum. One aspect of the film that is quite revealing is the shades of color used to represent the different "worlds". The world of the king is bright and colorful. The world of the Quakers is far more gray, but toward the end of the movie, the world of the king becomes darker hued.
In the end, even the King seems to understand the importance of scientific discourse and research--that these ideas could ultimately help not only his people but himself. Medieval monarchs played games with people's lives for their own selfish ends, and sometimes stifled those who could make positive contributions to their societies and even humanity at large. Restoration is about the transition from the Medieval model to a new societal design in which personal gain becomes an outcome of talent and contribution and not monarchical whim. Today, we are still challenged by the notion of privilege over substance. People in power still often give major opportunities to those they favor over those that could make important contributions who are less adept at playing the political game.
Biography / Drama / History / Romance
Biography / Drama / History / Romance
An aspiring young physician, Robert Merivel found himself in the service of King Charles II and saves the life of a spaniel dear to the King. Merivel joins the King's court and lives the high life provided to someone of his position. Merivel is ordered to marry one of the King's mistresses in order to divert the suspicions of another one of his mistresses. He is given one order by the king and that is not to fall in love. The situation worsens when Merivel finds himself in love with his new wife. Eventually, the King finds out and relieves Merivel of his position and wealth. His fall from grace leaves Merivel where he first started. And through his travels and reunites with an old friend, he rediscovers his love for true medicine and what it really means to be a physician.
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March 27, 2019 at 05:18 PM