A superb costume drama that stumbles occasionally due to its effort to rush through a picaresque structure (the production probably should have been a two-part BBC television miniseries), this adaptation of an acclaimed historical novel represents some the best work from troubled actor Robert Downey Jr. He's typically memorable in his role of a spoiled poseur who finds, as in so many redemption dramas from It's a Wonderful Life (1946) to Groundhog Day (1993), that his salvation lies in lancing his own egotistical, selfish drives. What sets director Michael Hoffman's film apart from the pack is its ravishing period look (the film took home a pair of Oscars for costume design and art direction) and the fact that it's loosely based on actual events and people, providing a relatively authentic peek at a fascinating historical epoch. Downey Jr. is ably supported by an eclectic and well-chosen cast, particularly by Sam Neill as the imperious King Charles II, Ian McKellen as the clever servant Will Gates, David Thewlis as an upright Quaker colleague, and Meg Ryan as an Irish mental patient. Those convinced that Ryan can play only the cute, daffy career-woman-in-love of her numerous romantic comedies would do well to check out her performances here and in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) and Courage Under Fire (1996) for a primer on what a talented, underrated actress she really is. Restoration (1995) would have been better served by a more studious, paced, and even-handed approach, but the film is a solid period piece that deserves to be seen by genre fans who may have missed its brief theatrical run.
by Karl Williams review