The story begins with John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (Depp), delivering his prologue, the main themes of which are his fondness for drink, his sexual proclivities, and his disdain for his audience. King Charles II (Malkovich) decides to summon his great friend, the Earl, back to London, retracting a year-long banishment for humiliating him, after only three month's exile. Rochester arrives in London to find his friends in a bawdy house; they are known as the "Merry Gang" and include George Etherege (Hollander) and Charles Sackville (Vegas). On the street, Rochester comes across a thief, Alcock (Coyle), whose frankness about his dishonesty impresses Rochester. He hires Alcock as his gentleman on the spot. The Merry Gang introduce its newest member, 18-year old Billy Downs (Friend). Rochester warns Downs, "Young man, you will die of this company."
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