Director: Michael Hoffman.
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr. (Robert Merivel), Sam Neill (King Charles II), David Thewlis (John Pearce), Polly Walker (Celia Clemence), Meg Ryan (Katharine), Ian McKellen (Will Gates), Hugh Grant (Elias Finn), Ian McDiarmid (Ambrose).
A doctor leads a decadent life style until he becomes a favorite of King Charles II of the Restoration of the monarchy fame and has to perform the role of pseudo-bridegroom for one of the king's mistresses, to whom he has grown very attached, indeed. He becomes born-again through his experiences, so to speak.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"In 1660 Charles II was restored to the English Throne ending 11 years of Oliver Cromwell's bleak Puritan rule. Thus began the age of Restoration. It was an era of scientific discovery, artistic exploration and luxurious sensuality. It was also a time of natural disasters and archaic medical practices. Science was pitted against superstition. This is the story of one man's journey through the light and dark of those times."
London 1663. Royal College Hospital. Dr. John Pearce and his friend Dr. Robert Merivel are at work seeing patients. Merivel is hungry, but Pearce tells him there's no time to eat or drink.
Robert talks to his father who is a glove maker. Dad is skeptical of his son because he says he leads a "life of debauchery". He tells Robert that his whoring is only interrupted daily by the care of the sick. Proving father's point, Robert asks for money to redeem his medical instruments from a pawnbroker. Dad is shocked and disgusted. He says he worked hard making gloves so Robert could be educated as a doctor and it was he that bought those medical instruments. Dad encourages his son by saying he has a gift for medicine. Robert complains that his "gift" always brings him to dark despair in dark rooms.
Robert has definitely been affected by the recent political, economic and social changes brought by the restoration of the monarchy. The theaters are open and the rich are approved of again. Robert says he wants to shake the hand of King Charles II. Dad gives him the five shillings he asked for and tells him not to spend them on women. Robert does just what he was asked not to do. He has sex with a whore.
Pearce calls for Merivel's help, while Merivel is having sex. He also makes a reference to Robert's bouts of debauchery. Pearce takes Merivel to see a man who has a hole in his chest and his beating heart can be seen at work. Pearce tries to touch the beating heart, but he can't quite do it. Merivel, however, does touch the beating heart.
Robert's touching of the beating heart gets back to the King, who quickly has Robert summoned to him. He is brought in to see the King in his bed. But His Majesty is not ill, but one of his many cocker spaniels is. The King wants Robert to stay with the dog Lou Lou until it's well again. If Robert can cure the dog, the King will make him a court physician.
Robert decides to let nature take its course. He thinks the dog will heal if given peace and quiet. The next morning the dog is not breathing. Merivel calls for a casket and the dog is placed inside. As the casket is about to be taken away, Robert hears a little bark of sorts. The dog is well. The King is very pleased and he opens the castle and all its treasures and temptations to Merivel. He also says he wiill see what Merivel makes of himself.
If Robert wasn't spoiled before, he will be now. He has an unbelievably sumptuous bed and ready access to the royal tailors. And he is introduced to his "play fellows", a bevy of beautiful women. His duties are to watch over the health, care and comfort of the eighteen royal spaniels.
John Pearce warns Robert that he will be wasting his gift in the palace, but Robert won't hear any objections. He loves this new life he has and he is staying in the palace. Pearce has recently found his peace in Quakerism and he unsuccessfully urges Robert to lead a more simple life.
At court Robert becomes a kind of court jester. He makes people laugh by his trick of farting at will. One of his new unofficial jobs is to amuse the King. At night Robert continues leading his life of debauchery with a constant supply of young women. The court supervisor says about him: "Our physician has become our fool."
The King is overseeing the preparations for a grand wedding. Robert asks him who is getting married? His mistress Celia Clemence. The King explains that his grand amour is Barbara Castlemaine, but she is jealous of Miss Clemence. To make Barbara happier, Miss Clemence will be married. She and her husband will have a fine residence outside of London, but the King will at times secret her near the river in Kew. And who is marrying her? None other than Robert Merivel. Robert is shocked. The King explains that he picked Robert because he is "far too enamored of women in general to make the mistake of loving one in particular." Robert protests that he does not wish to marry, but the King expects Merivel to do him this favor. In return, the King will make him a knight and give him a huge estate in Suffolk. If Robert does marry, the King makes it clear that there will be no intimacy of any kind between husband and wife. The King gives him a necklace with a large silver heart on which is engraved, Sir Robert Merivel, Bidnold.
Robert gives his medical books to John, saying he is giving up medicine. John tells him "the light has gone out of your eyes."
When Robert meets the bride on his wedding day, he is taken aback by her great beauty. At night the men chase the groom and then throw him into bed with his new wife. Celia gives him a big kiss for show and out the men go. After the men have gone, the King comes into the room and all three have a hearty laugh. And now he tells Merivel to get going to Suffolk. He is given a disguise so he won't be recognized. Later Robert writes John a letter saying that as soon as he saw Celia, he was totally captivated by her. He finds that he constantly ithinks about her.
Robert is welcomed to Bidnold by the servant Will Gates. The place is huge and the gardens beautiful, but all Roberts wants on his arrival is to retire to his room and drink. Robert tells Gates that the house breeds in him a feeling of melancholy. Gates says it should, because the King confiscated it from a man who was a Puritan. Since his wife will not be coming very often to the place, Robert decides to colorize the house and have grand parties. He tells Gates he will make Bidnold such a wonderful place, that if Celia comes to the house, she will never want to leave again. He throws a grand party complete with lots of beautiful women. And who should pop in at this very moment but Celia. She takes Robert completely by surprise. She asks him to show her to her rooms and Robert promptly faints.
In the morning Gates goes down to the river to wake up Robert who is sleeping in a boat. Robert tells Gates he had a dream last night that Lady Celia arrived at the mansion. He is flabbergasted when Gates tells him that she did come last night as a matter of fact. Robert runs up to see her. He welcomes her to Bidnold, but she is disgusted with him. She says she will be soon going back to be with the King and there is nothing Robert can do for her. She now tells Robert that he is a fool. The King looked around for the stupidest man in the kingdom and he found Robert Merivel. She begged the King not to marry her to such a fool. To make everything perfectly clear, she tells Robert to stay away from her.
Robert starts to clean up his act and is rewarded by a visit from Celia. She sees an Indian Nightingale bird in a cage and asks Robert if she can keep it in her room? She also asks that the garden room be considered hers. As a reward, she says she perhaps may invite him to the garden room from time to time. Before leaving, Celia apologizes for what she said earlier and admits that in her love for the King she may be as foolish as Robert is.
Robert gets a letter from Pearce who is now working in a Quaker hospital. He asks Will to be a confidant. Robert tells him he has done the one thing the King strictly forbade. He has fallen in love with Celia.
The King sends a painter, Mr. Finn, to paint Celia's portrait. Robert is saddened when he hears Celia tell the painter: "My imprisonment is over. The King means me to return." But a letter arrives asking not Celia, but Robert, to pay a visit to the king. Robert comes in to see the king in a room filled with a model of the new London that the king wants to see put in place. The King tells Merivel that the plague has arrived with the death of four people in Deptford. But what he really wants to talk about with Merivel is the subject of his wife. He has had some problems with Celia and he wants Robert to help make Celia penitent enough that she will accept what she has and be happy for it. Then, after the portrait is done, she may come back to a warm welcome from the King.
When Robert sees Celia again he lies to her saying that the King has put her future in his hands for he will be the one to judge if Celia is ready to be received by the King. Celia wants to know how she might become ready to see the King. Robert lies again, saying that the King has suggested that Celia and he work on their love for music together. He goes even farther by asking Will to forge a letter to Robert from the King.
The letter "arrives" and makes no mention of the painting. Robert tells Finn that it seems the King has lost all interest in it. Finn becomes so angry that he leaves the room.
Celia comes to Robert to tell him that her bird is ill. Robert gives it some medicine. Celia asks why Robert gave up being a physician? After all, even the King says he has a great gift of healing. But all Robert can think of is Celia. The bird dies and Celia is very upset. She seeks consolation from Robert by laying her head on his chest.
One day Finn overhears Robert saying to Gates that he loves Celia and must do all he can to prevent the completion of the painting. Finn now starts being overly polite to Robert and even offers to work on Celia to better improve her relationship to Robert. Robert accepts the offer. After awhile, Finn returns to Robert to say about Celia that now his "advances would not be unwelcome". So one night while looking at the stars together with Celia, Robert kisses her neck and then kisses her on the mouth. She fights him off and then spits in his face. Robert is crushed. Celia returns to her rooms.
In the morning Gates says that Mr. Finn has betrayed them. Robert is summoned to court. At court, the King tells Robert that by doing what was explicitly forbidden, he has driven himself out of paradise. The King takes Bidnold away from him. Robert asks the King would will he do now? What he did before. He tells Merivel as he walks away: "The plague is coming, Merivel, and the plague rouses men from their sleep."
Having no where else to go, Robert says goodbye to Mr. Gates and sets off for Pearce and the Quaker hospital. At the gates of the hospital is a plague saying: "Behold I have refined thee in the furnace of affliction." Pearce greets Robert very warmly. John tells his friend that he prayed that Robert might be taken out of the sumptuous court life. Robert is shocked at the tiny size of his new bedroom, but John says here they put emphasis on other things here at the hospital.
The patients he will be working with now are mentally ill in different ways. John introduces Robert to a pretty Irish woman named Katherine. She was abandoned by her husband one night and will not sleep. Katherine asks Robert if he is another man sent to do her injustice?
During the day, Katharine walks around a tree in the muddy ground in great, long, exaggerated strides, trailing her skirt in the mud. Robert asks her if this is some sort of dance? She calls it "leaving step" because every one on earth has his leaving step. Her husband stepped over her in one giant stride while she slept. She asks Robert doesn't he have his own leaving step? Robert says no, because it's others who leave him. This answer impresses Katherine.
Robert objects when they bleed Katherine, saying there must be a better way to treat her. Robert asks her why is she afraid to sleep? Katherine says because she let go of her three year old daughter's hand and lost her. One day she closed her eyes and the river took her child. She drowned. To calm Katherine he starts telling her a tale of the land of Mar across the sea. She lays back and soon is asleep. The staff start complaining that Robert is too attentive to Katherine. Robert defends his treatment of Katherine by saying that he learned from her something about the time before she was mad. In doing so, he is trying to help her return to this time in her head. He also suggests that they introduce music and dance to the patients. The Quakers are skeptical.
The Quakers agree to have music and dance around the courtyard tree. Katherine still does her leaving step, but she soon starts dancing. She gets things going as the other patients start dancing too. Robert has Katherine dance with John. As the music gets faster, the dancing gets faster and soon the people are twirling and dancing around the tree.
John tells Robert that he is getting sick. Robert refuses to believe that and says that John is just overworked. He needs medicine and rest. Robert, however, gets discouraged as John doesn't get any better, but worse. He goes to see Katherine. She asks for a story about the land of Mar and as Robert talks, she keeps putting her feet on his groin area. Soon they are kissing and having sex. Katherine arranges to meet Robert at a certain place and time of the night.
John is getting really sick now. Robert believes it's not the plague, but some form of consumption. He stays with John in the night. But the time comes for Robert to leave John to go see Katherine. John, however, asks Robert to stay with him because the pain is less that way. Robert's absence makes Katherine go a bit wild. She marches around the tree in the rain shouting out Robert's name and: "Robert is my lover!" John dies.
The Quakers prepare themselves for Robert to leave. The main reason is that Katherine is with child. One morning Katherine and Robert ride off in a horse-drawn wagon. The couple has very little money, so Robert gets the idea that he can beat a gambler at a shell game called Three Card Monte. Robert gambles and literally loses his shirt. Katherine tells Robert that she has money sewn into her dress. She removes a gold coin and bets everything they have against all that Robert has lost and a free breakfast. Katherine wins!
They go to London where the plague is in full swing. There are bodies stacked up along the river bank. Merivel takes Katherine to a place where he once lived. They set up house in the abandoned building.
At night Robert has a vision of John and hears his voice saying that Robert has a gift. Merivel decides to go back to practicing medicine. He whips up a concoction to make Katherine feel better and help the baby.
It is time for Mary to give birth, but the baby is so large that she cannot deliver it the normal way. Robert has to perform a caesarian section. He does save the baby. The baby is a girl and Katherine names her Margaret. Shortly after seeing her baby girl, Katherine dies.
Robert now goes to work as a doctor. The plague is still raging. He looks around and sees that the sick are being held in segregation with the non sick. He says this is nonsense, because the ill will spread the disease to the non-ill. But that is the policy, so that is what is to be done? Robert refuses to accept this. He kicks down the boards keeping the segregated people locked up. He then goes in and starts finding out who is ill and who is sick. He separates the two groups from each other. He is able to save quite a few of the non-sick people and some of the sick ones too. The people think his name is John Pearce and Robert doesn't correct them in honor of his friend.
One day Dr. Pearce is summoned to see the King. He wears a disguise to see the king. He wears a funny-looking leather suit and mask with a long beak to filter out the plague so a doctor won't become ill. Pearce has been brought in to see Celia, who is ill. Celia thinks she knows the voice of the doctor, but she can't bring it to the front of her memory. Pearce also checks on her belly. As Pearce, Merivel tells the king that Celia does not have the plague. She has another illness, which he has treated her,for and from which she will recover. He also tells the King that Celia is expecting a child. The King is very grateful, and now wants Pearce to take off his mask, but Merivel refuses. Just at this moment a messenger comes in to tell the King that a great part of London is on fire. Merivel sees his opportunity and runs out of the palace. He wants to save his daughter Margaret.
Robert runs toward the fire, while almost everyone else runs from it. He has a heck of a time getting past all these people to save his daughter. He finds the apartment building, but he cannot get to Margaret. The floor falls through on him and tosses him into the river. He climbs in a boat and, exhausted, goes to sleep. The boat floats down stream. Some farmers discover Robert the next morning.
When Robert finally awakens he finds himself in Bidnold palace. He is totally confused, but he is so happy to see Will Gates. Will explains what happened, but knows nothing of this Margaet of whom Robert speaks. He explains to Will that Margaret is his little girl. He hugs Gates. Robert looks out the window saying he suddenly feels old age coming upon him. At this moment a cocker spaniel comes running into the room. Suddenly, ten other dogs come running down the hall followed by the King and his staff. The King also brings with him the nanny who has Margaret in her arms. Merivel is so relieved and happy to see them. Celia is well. It was she who finally remembered the owner of the voice she heard.
Now the King gives Bidnold back to Merivel. He says: "What was taken from you is restored in return for the lives you've saved and the man that you have become."
Merivel as narrator says the great fire of London consumed the great plague of London. He now will work as a doctor in the city and will help rebuild the King's hospital. He finishes with: "The stars that once confused me seem now to light a path that is clear, that I have in truth been traveling for all these days where I met what came and left behind my sorrows and am traveling still."
Good movie. The story of Dr. Merivel follows the story of the times. As the times start partying and having fun as a cure-all for all those years of Puritanism under Cromwell, Merivel joins in on the fun. But soon he is leading a life of debauchery. King Charles II has quite a few mistresses and loves his cocker spaniels. Merivel thinks he is getting a big break when the King calls him in to care for the health of his dogs. After all he now leads a life of luxury and even has access to a bevy of beautiful women. But this actually is a curse, because this life devoted to pleasure saps his mind and body and soon Merivel abandons his career as a doctor. His foolishness gets him picked as the man to be part of a fake marriage, where Robert marries one of the King's mistress Celia. Robert falls in love with Celia and is soon in much disfavor with the king. In one way, the King actually saves Robert by giving him the boot from his position, thereby forcing him to go back to medicine.
Out of necessity partly, Merivel is forced to grow up fast. Soon he has a new life with a woman named Katherine. Katherine has a baby, but she dies from the caesarian section. Now all alone Will is forced to work as a doctor. Lucky for him, the plague saves him. It forces him to face a huge challenge, a challenge that he meets and then some. We finally see a mature and actually happier Robert Merivel arise from the ashes of his former life of debauchery.
The film gives some history of the times as being much more morally relaxed. It also gives a some history of London for the great plague was followed by the great fire that in turn helped wipe out the great plague.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
1651 (January 1) -- the future Charles II is crowned King of Scotland.
1651 (September 3) -- Charles is defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester. Charles goes into exile for nine years in France, the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands.
1660 -- Charles returns to England and becomes King Charles II in 1661. He was known as the Merrie Monarch, because his court was both lively and hedonistic. This was, in part, a reaction to the puritanism of the more than ten year rule of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. Charles had no children by his wife, but acknowledged at least twelve children by seven mistresses.
Theaters reopen. A new bawdy genre is established called "Restoration Comedy". Moreover, women are now allowed to perform on stage for the first time.
Charles is also a patron of the arts and sciences. He helps start the Royal Society to promote science.
1665 and 1666 -- unsanitary, overcrowded London experiences the Great Plague. It killed about 60,000 people (one-fifth of the city's population).
Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, wrote about the plague saying that "little noise heard day or night but tolling of bells." For the dead.
1666 (September 2) -- Great Fire of London begins at 1 a.m. at a Pudding Lane bakehouse in the southern part of London. It helps end the Great Plague.
1666 (September 6) -- the fire is extinguished, but at night the flames start up again at the Temple. The fire destroys 60% percent of the city. The fire changes the face of London with its medieval street plan as, after the fire, more houses were built with stone and brick, rather than wood. After the fire the City of London itself becomes more certainly the home of the mercantile class, while Westminster became the aristocratic world of the court.
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