Eleven years after Cromwell’s puritan rule, in 1660’s London, Charles II is restored as the King of England. Doctor Robert Merivel (Robert Downey Jr.) is a very busy and frustrated physician. He is also a man who spends his nights and money in parties and prostitutes. Nevertheless, he is not happy.
John Pearce (David Thewlis), his best friend, is a dedicated doctor who shows Meribel a living man with a hole in his chest that exposes the beating heart. Fascinated, Merivel touches the man’s heart impressing his friend and also King Charles (Sam Neill), who is been watching incognito from a distance. The King asks his companions about the daring doctor and summons Merivel to the palace that same day.
Merivel’s good luck is such that he’s able to help heal the King’s sick dog. As a result, the Monarch gives him the job of court physician with all the wealth, privileges, and excesses Robert loves. Feeling he now has what he always wanted, Merivel abandons his medical profession. Pearce, his Quaker friend, disagrees with his living in the Royal Court as just one of the many King’s adulators.
After a year, Robert has become the King’s favorite amusing fool. So close is he, that the King prepares him an arranged marriage to Celia Clemence (Polly Walker), one of Charles’s several mistresses, to try to avoid these women’s many quarrels and sends them both to a mansion in the country where they’ll keep a low profile while he can visit her without disturbance. Robert is warned by the King: intimacy with Lady Celia is forbidden, of course.
Everything seems fine to the former physician until meeting Celia. Not only he feels attracted to her, but later, obsessed. Robert’s life turns 180 degrees from then on losing almost everything.
Only his good luck and clarity of purpose brings him back to what his true self always wanted, not before going through difficulties, tragedies and finding love on his way to restoration.
See also Robert Downey Jr. in: The Judge (2014), Chaplin (1992)