This adaptation (by Rupert Walters) of Rose Tremain's brilliant Booker-shortlisted novel is a lot better than rumours about its frantic, lengthy post-production might have suggested. Downey is Robert Merivel, a rakish physician invited to the court of Charles II and favoured for curing one of the king's spaniels. He's a callow, hedonistic young man torn between the rigours of knowledge, the wealth of preferment, and the sexual intemperance of an age quickly forgetting the puritanism of the Cromwells. He weds one of the king's best mistresses in a lavish court ceremony, but is deflated to find Charles ready to take his place in the marriage bed. Out of favour and tricked by court painter Finn (Grant), Merivel journeys through 1660s England, taking refuge in a Quaker community that includes his sickly friend Pearce (Thewlis) and mad, Irish Katharine (Ryan). Ryan, with legs waxed and lipstick in place, is a striking example of how the film goes astray as soon as it plays the star casting game; but at least the doomed Katharine and the survivor Merivel have their baby, the major stepping stone on the physican's path to maturity and virtue. Engaging if uneven.
Cast and crew
Robert Downey Jr Sam Neill Polly Walker David Thewlis Meg Ryan Ian McKellen Hugh Grant