John Lyttle on film

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The Independent Culture
I like a good costume drama almost as much as I like a good costume, and Restoration is a good costume drama, even if its pretensions to art mean it cannot acknowledge its abiding debt to trash; namely, the Forties bestseller Forever Amber, likewise a story of decadence, sexual high-jinks, true lurve and bosoms out to here at the court of King Charles II.

But this is being picky, not to mention ungrateful. Robert Downey Jnr's physician is so much prettier than Linda Darnell's Amber, and flaunts the most outrageous set of ringlets since Loretta Young. Pardon me if the names of old-fashioned stars keep cropping up, but Restoration (right) is, for all its Big Questions and Booker-list credits (it's from Rose Tremain's novel), resolutely old-fashioned. The movie isn't so far from, say, Anne of the Thousand Days or Mary, Queen of Scots, two not-so-prime examples of costume's last wave (during the Seventies, an era inordinately fond of dressing-up and nihilism).

Like Anne and Mary, Restoration returns to the past because the present is flat and the future busted. The year 2000 looms and history seems, if not better, at least simplier. Royals acted out their whims, and their countries - the Body Politic - responded. You knew who to blame; not society, not politics, not economics, but the heavy head that wore the crown.

Or so the movies suggest. It's a belief that one (almost) gratefully embraces as the planet yet again impersonates a ball of confusion. Restoration imagines it's above such base thinking, but it plays by the same period- detail rules. It's just a bodice ripper with marginally better acting, which, as always, is the joy of it.

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