Restoration: Love in the Time of the Bubonic Plague


17th Century England, 17th Century Europe, Bubonic Plague, Charles II, David Thewlis, Great Fire of London, Meg Ryan, Restoration, Robert Downey Jr, Sam Neill

“In 1660 Charles II was restored to the English Throne ending 11 years of Oliver Cromwell’s wind-swept Puritan rule. Thus began the century of Restoration. It was an series of scientific discovery, artistic exploration, and self-indulgent sensuality. It was also a time of unregenerate disasters and archaic medical practices. Science was pitted in anticipation of superstition. This is the story of the same man’s journey through the kindle and dark of those times.”

So begins Restoration (1995, dir. Michael Hoffman, based forward Rose Tremain’s 1989 novel of the like name), a modest little film not far from a young doctor, Robert Merivel (Robert Downey, Jr.), who earns the circumspection of the new king Charles II (Sam Neill) ~ means of curing Charles’ sick spaniel. Merivel is a of talent young physician but also a libertine and wastrel ~ dint of. nature. Once ensconced at the court being of the cl~s who the caretaker of the royal hounds, he indulges in his predisposition for wine, woman, and buffoonery. Then single in kind day, Charles tells him that united of the king’s mistresses has be turned into jealous of another of his mistresses, and to such a degree Charles has decided to marry her on the farther side to Merivel. The marriage is to have ~ing a sham; Merivel is forbidden to death with his own wife, who has not at all real interest in him anyway, yet the reward is an estate in Suffolk and a knight-errantry.


Unable to say no, Merivel weds Celia (Polly Walker) and beings his life during the time that a country gentleman, but soon finds himself falling in devotion with his wife. Celia views her time in Suffolk being of the cl~s who an exile and wishes to exist restored to Charles’ court, while Merivel schemes to extend his wife’s absence from court in hopes that she decree come to love him. But his design is exposed and an angry Charles evicts him from the estate and reclaims Celia.

Destitute and homeless, he seeks finished an old medical student friend, John Pearce (David Thewlis), a Puritan who has opened a sanitarium towards the mentally ill, where Merivel meets Katherine (a sooner out-of-place Meg Ryan), ~y emotionally disturbed Irish woman whom he falls in love with and gets pregnant. This gets the two of them kicked out and they be tortuous up destitute in London just in time by reason of the Bubonic Plague to hit London, and lief after that, the Great Fire of London.

The fiction is basically a redemption narrative. Merivel begins his come when he succumbs to the pleasures of the court and slowly loses his anger for medicine. He bottoms out at the time that he is evicted from his condition and slowly begins to recover his excitement at the sanitarium, where he proposes treating the deranged inmates through playing music and letting them frisk (in one of those stock Hollywood scenes at which place the skeptical authorities reluctantly allow a thing unconventional and it proves so transformative that not only so the authorities embrace it).

Downey as Merivel

Downey being of the kind which Merivel

Medicine repeatedly brings out the in the highest degree in Merivel, even when it leads to complications. His measured movement therapy leads to his relationship through Katherine, who helps him emerge from his emotional deadness. But later he realizes that their baby needs to be delivered by caesarean division, a procedure that Katherine will not outlive. This turns out to be the world’s prettiest c-division, with virtually no blood. Katherine controls her affliction so well she doesn’t on a level need to be held down and a viewer future in partway through the scene force be forgiven for thinking that her moans and writhing were signs that someone was giving her cunnilingus. Afterward, she gets a rigorous soft-lighting post-operative death show. In case anyone is missing the instant of what I’m saying, this is comic. Pre-modern caesarean sections were frightful. affairs, done without anesthetic and consequently unendurably painful for the mother, numerous of whom probably died from the pain alone, permit alone the blood loss and means trauma.

The birth of his daughter and the squandering of his mistress force Merivel to swell up. He decides to confront the Bubonic Plague and is horrified to expose to view that the Royal Hospital has been filled through sick patients who have been boarded up in a immense room with no medical treatment. He precisely breaks down the boards to earn to his patients and tenderly eases the toilsome effort of the dying and helps the rest rescue.

It’s a decent little film. Downey is well-cast in the representative of role he’s best known on account of, the charming rake who struggles by his addictions, but Restoration was made exact before he began his own disreputable descent in drug addiction, and in the same state his performance lacks the knowing margin of some of his later roles. The rest of the assignment of parts is mostly quite solid, including Hugh Grant being of the cl~s who a high-strung artist assigned to depict a portrait of Celia and Ian McKellan at the same time that the faithful steward of Merivel’s estate. Neill seems just a bit away as Charles II, lacking the positive man’s self-depricating sense of pleasantry and charm, and as I uttered, Meg Ryan feels totally inappropriate, like in ~ degree one realized she was actually tinge in the romantic comedy filming nearest door.

Wait, I get cut open and die? I thought I was America's Sweetheart.

Wait, I get cut evident and die? America’s Sweetheart doesn’t perform that.

The Medical Details

The pellicle wants to be a criticism of the appalling magnificence of medicine in the late 17th centenary, a theme it has in hackneyed with The Madness of King George. The preface text tells us that medicine is “archaic” and that “body of knowledge was pitted against superstition”, but the film never really delves into that critical examination enough to really work. There’s a good scene early on where Pearce and Merivel keep company with an anatomy lecture that’s inmost nature delivered in Latin; that’s faithful but it’s a passing enumerate, and the medical education of the time is simply commented on, other than that it requires expensive books and that Merivel should exist grateful that his father, a glover, was clever to arrange a medical education despite him.

We only see Merivel in fact practicing medicine a couple of spells, mainly at the sanitarium, when he performs the caesarean piece, and when he treats the Plague victims. He occasionally examines patients, listens to their heartbeat from one side a tube, and so on, ~-end it’s mostly just incidental particulars. But the real problem is that the thin skin really doesn’t have much form of what 17th century medicine actually involved.

Physic, as elite learned physic was called at the time, was essentially theoretical preventative remedy, an expensive medical practice, in exhibition of differences to surgery, which was considered a bring down-status form of medical practice that involved a file of practices including the extraction of teeth, the setting of steep bones, the (rather painful) removal of bladder stones, and the like. Physic and surgery were essentially opposites; not many physicians were also surgeons, the passage that few neurosurgeons are also massage therapists.

Down to the timely 19th century, medicine emphasized humoral system, which held that the body had four primitive fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile (that which you bring up when you ~ory) and black bile (exactly what they cogitation that was is a matter of contention); all other fluids, like sweat, seed, and urine, were secondary fluids created from unit of the primary fluids. Each primordial fluid was either hot or cold and either wet or dry, in such a manner that blood was hot and foggy, yellow bile was hot and sarcastic, phlegm was cold and wet, and inky bile was cold and dry. Observable symptoms like as sweating, fever, clamminess, vomiting, and diarrhea were quite signs that one humor had gotten disclosed of balance; so if a resigned was feverish and sweaty, he had some excess of the hot, wet pleasantry, while if the patient had a ferment without sweats, he had an disproportion of the hot, dry humor. The appropriate restorative was to remove the excess maggot from the body, so the feverish laborious patient could be bled, while the feverish non-difficult patient could be given an vomitory to induce vomiting. Diet was besides important, because certain foods stimulated the various humors; healthy patients would be told to act corrosively or avoid certain foods based up~ the disposition of their body.

The Four Humors

The Four Humors

The humors also affected personality, and provided the ground for a theory of psychology. A persistent with a frenzied, excessively fussy, or passionate personality was choleric, so the management for those afflicted by violent outbursts force be to bleed them (that’s wherefore King George’s doctor wants to chalice him). Those who suffered from abasement, sleeplessness, and the like were melancholy, because they had an excess of doleful bile. The leading work on the subject in the 17th hundred, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, felt that affable factors such as poverty, isolation, mournfulness, and fear were as important during the time that humoral imbalance. He began the course of separating depression from its perceived altogether causes and its evolution into a originally mental or spiritual condition (although novel pharmacology has started reversing that unfolding by emphasizing the biochemical component of stagnation). Burton prescribed a range of treatments including drugs and herbs, act and moderate exercise, diet, sex, exposure to nature, and in very extremity cases blood-letting.


Burton’s act was extremely influential, and would to all appearance have influenced the Puritan sanitarium, especially after Burton, as a clergyman, also feels that offence can cause melancholy. But there’s trivial sign of serious therapeutic efforts at the sanitarium, save in the case of Katherine. Her vapors mostly manifests as insomnia and each obsession with walking strangely. She seems a great quantity less ill than most of the patients there, but Pearce insists on bleeding her to act upon sleep. She responds well to Merivel’s measured movement therapy, but what really seems to steer her mind back in order is acquirement busy with Merivel. I’m not abiding what’s really dictating the plan here, Burton’s Anatomy, or the misogynistic exemplar that difficult women just need to induce laid more.

Merivel’s dance therapy is certainly romance but it’s not exactly according to principles; it’s just feel-good stuff. (And the film seems rather confused through Pearce’s beliefs. In the rare, Pearce becomes a Quaker, basically ~ward the far liberal end of the Christian appearance of the time. In the movie, notwithstanding that, he says he’s become a Puritan, who were up~ the body the far conservative end of the Christian appearance of the day; it’s like rewriting a vegan hippie from San Francisco in the manner that a Christian fundamentalist home-schooler from Alabama and cogitation that somehow the character would have existence the same person either way. The creative that Puritan doctors would allow move to music therapy is absurd, since they considered dancing profoundly sinful.)

Thewlis as Pearce, leading his band of Puritan doctors

Thewlis as Pearce, leading his party of Puritan doctors

Merivel’s c-section was standard medical practice at the time; the universal idea was if the mother is going to die anyway (since the baby was too large beneficial to the birth canal), the surgeon strength as well try to save the baby. But the c-section is a surgical measure, and Merivel is a physician; he may be the subject of watched surgery, but he’s none performed it. Additionally, physicians of his twenty-four hours would have received no hands-in successi~ obstetrical training whatsoever; that was left to midwives. Having him fulfil a caesarean section would be like asking your chiropractor to cook it.

His treatment of the quarantined patients is mainly just basic nursing; giving them regimen and water and helping make them welcome. Medicine at the time had not many ideas about how to actually deal by the Plague, although fumigation with tobacco steam was popular at the time (and we accompany that at the court of Charles II; there’s every absurdly large brazier-pendulum that swings by a bed). Because they had not at all clear idea how to treat the Plague, London decisions ordered the establishment of suburban infection-houses where sick patients could exist quarantined; their houses were to be shut up and marked with a red misfortune and “Lord have mercy attached us”, for forty days, after which the house could be opened up again and eminent with a white cross, so that no strangers would stay there for any other twenty days. The film gets this unjust, since it treats the Royal Hospital like a pest-house and marks it through a white cross, rather than a red the same. (For those interested in how London responded to the Plague, the National Archives in London has a dainty educational page about the issue, clean with a few primary documents.)

At one point Merivel dons a physician’s plague evasion, which gives the film a excellent visual image, but he immediately takes the shift off when he gets to his indefatigable, which would have defeated the uninjured purpose of such a mask. The beak of such masks was stuffed through aromatic herbs on the theory that they would purify the air so the physician would not breed sick when treating contagious patients.

A physician in a plague mask

A physician in a plague mask

The outcome of all of this is that the in which case the film wants to offer a critical remarks of 17th century medicine, it can’t actually muster the energy to engage with the material in any real track. Merivel is a “modern” medical man only to the extent that he acts a slender more like a modern doctor than Pearce does. His animadversion of the medicine of his light of ~ is limited to a speech near dance therapy and his insistence adhering helping the Plague victims die less painfully. There’s no mention of humoral rationale or Burton’s work on dismal or anything that would give the viewer ~ one insight into either traditional medical theories or why Merivel might think differently.

Walker as Celia, arriving at her wedding

Walker viewed like Celia, arriving at her wedding

The pellicle works much better with its central metaphor of Restoration, which operates on multiple levels. The political restoration of the monarchy brings through it a restoration of the caducity of the English court (as Merivel quips betimes in the film, “rich men be able to go to heaven again”) after the Puritan interlude that banned pleasures such as theater and dance. Merivel loses the pair his true calling in life and his communicative position, and gradually recovers them. Celia longs in spite of her restoration to court and the affections of the sovereign, while Merivel restores both physical and emotional soundness to various patients, although in a link together of key situations he is incapable to help those he loves greatest in number. He is repeatedly reunited with decayed friends and given a chance to fix past mistakes. While it’s not a brilliant film by any means, it’s cautious to see a Hollywood film that deals such effectively with a central theme a diminutive more sophisticated than “freedom!”

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Search keywords

Both comments and pings are currently closed.