Weekend Film Recommendation: Impromptu

Artistic stars of 1830s Paris are brought vividly to life in the high-spirited and entertaining 1991 film Impromptu. Directed by Tony-winning Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, the film stars Judy Davis in a bravura performance as George Sand. She spends the film avoiding prior lovers (including Mandy Pantinkin as Alfred de Musset) and chasing a new one, Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant, in the sort of gentle and innocent performance that he could credibly give before we all came to know more about him). Liszt (Julian Sands) and Delacroix (Ralph Brown) are also on hand for the frolic, most of which takes place at a French country home presided over by a culture-starved and rather daffy Duchess (Emma Thompson, who is very funny).

If you are one of those film goers who laments the lack of strong, intelligent woman characters in most Hollywood productions, you will find Judy Davis’ performance particularly enjoyable. The screen writer, Sarah Kernochan, is justly known for creating multi-faceted female characters. She and Davis give the audience a George Sand who is complicated, passionate, endearing and also at times maddening. (Not incidentally, in the art imitates life department, Sand here is a brilliant woman absolutely intoxicated by a man’s musical ability, and Kernochan is married to Lapine).

Partly a fictionalized look at high culture and fame and partly a romantic romp, this movie includes not a dull or unappealing moment. The wonderful music and art direction add further pleasure to Impromptu, making it a complete and satisfying piece of cinema.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

One thought on “Weekend Film Recommendation: Impromptu”

  1. I love this film. It used to be in heavy rotation on HBO and every time I’d flip by it I’d have to stop and watch for a bit. In fact, my daughter is named Aurora partially for George Sand.

    Mandy Patinkin has fan and away the best line of the movie.

    “The only good books she ever wrote were when she was with me: every morning, while she was sleeping, I’d cross out half her adjectives. Hercules himself could not have done it.”

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