Sam Neill did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying King Charles II in Restoration.
Sam Neill plays the man partly responsible for the restoration, In simplest terms restoration of the monarchy in England after the rule of Oliver Cromwell, who in fact had Charles's father, Charles I, executed. Charles II comes into the film through his invitation to Merivel to possibly help one of his beloved companions a Spaniel. Charles was known as the merry monarch and this is what Neill plays into in his earliest appearances of the film. Neill is probably best known for rather serious minded characters so it is interesting to see him take on Charles. Neill is actually incredibly charismatic in the role and has the sort of presence needed for such a King. Neill has this grand quality about him that would only fit a royal upbringing, as he acts as though he is on a separate ground than anyone else, well because he kind of is being King and all. What's so special about what Neill does is he's not unlikable in the role. The charm he finds within the King's behavior quite abundant, and he becomes the eccentric and lovable sort of rouge the merry monarch needs to be. A man who obviously probably spends too much on his personal excesses, but Neill makes you really like the man anyways.
It also needs to be said that Neill gives a performance that is simply fun to watch as he realizes so well the indulgence eccentricities about the King. Again the character easily could have come off as a repulsive man whose personal excess is something off-putting. Neill goes with it in a way though that makes the man only endearing. This shown particularly well in his central attachment to Merivel which is to make him a false husband for one of his mistresses, in order to satisfy another one of his mistresses. Again Neill is just splendid because he somehow makes Charles request seem quite reasonable and fair, even though it is only for his own selfish purposes. The thing is though that the film never blames Charles or even depicts him in really even an unsympathetic light. Neill makes this completely work with his performance though, because he manages to make Charles that larger than life figure he needs to be to allow a certain contradiction. That being it is only Charles's family that technically makes him anything more than any other man, but that winning personality that Neill creates so well more than makes up for anything questionable the man might do.
Neill finds just the right tone for his work, that also manages to work within the tone of the film which wavers between light comedy and drama. Neill is very entertaining in the role, but once again, even though Charles probably should just be a joke, he never comes off as one, once again due to Neill. As much as Neill great at being that lovable rouge, he makes Charles worthy of being a King as well. Neill exudes a strong command, even within the character's certain flamboyance, that is worthy for a ruler of a country. Neill very naturally has this even part of Charles when he is speaking completely unimportant things such as that his prize dog will no longer call back to him. Neill though is excellent in the way that when a situation calls for it, the true King in Charles becomes all the more evident. When Charles actually has to actually get something done, such as setting Merivel straight, Neill is striking as he delivers that authoritative control out of the situation without question, and the most important part is Neill makes seem from that very same man who was heartbroken over his dog. Neill is especially effective when this side of Charles reveals itself late in the film where he essentially fixes everything for Merivel. Neill is fantastic in the scene because he brings such a warmth within that powerful determination the man has essential for a great King. Neill does not even have that many scenes, being completely absent for a large chunk of the film. Charles II is never forgotten though as Neill makes such an impact in the the time that he does have, in his portrait of the man that frankly was worthy of an entire film.