Impromptu (1991 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Lapine
Produced by Stuart Oken
Daniel A. Sherkow
Written by Sarah Kernochan
Music by Frédéric Chopin
Franz Liszt
Ludwig van Beethoven
Cinematography Bruno de Keyzer
Edited by Michael Ellis
Distributed by Sovereign Pictures
Release date
12 April 1991
Running time
91 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Box office $4,076,211 (USA)[1]

Impromptu is a 1991 British-American period drama film directed by James Lapine, written by Sarah Kernochan, produced by Daniel A. Sherkow and Stuart Oken, and starring Hugh Grant as Frédéric Chopin and Judy Davis as George Sand. The film was shot entirely on location in France as a British production by an American company. The main location used was at the Chateau des Briottières outside of Angers, in the Loire Valley.[2]


Since getting divorced, Baroness Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, previously Baroness Dudevant, the successful and notorious writer of sensational romance novels now living under the pseudonym George Sand, in Paris, has been in the habit of dressing like a man. In her romantic pursuit of the sensitive Chopin, whose music she fell in love with before seeing him in person, George/Aurora is advised that she must act like a man pursuing a woman, though she is also advised to avoid damaging his health by not pursuing him at all. With this advice Sand is deterred by a fellow countrywoman who pretends to be smitten with Chopin, the mistress of Franz Liszt, the Countess Marie d'Agoult. Whether the Countess is really in love with Chopin is unlikely; she seeks only to prevent a relationship between Chopin and Sand.

Sand meets Chopin in the French countryside at the house of the Duchess d'Antan, a foolish aspiring socialite who invites artists from Paris to her salon in order to feel cosmopolitan. Sand invites herself, not knowing that several of her former lovers are also in attendance. A small play is written by Alfred de Musset satirizing the aristocracy, Chopin protests at his lack of manners, de Musset bellows and a fireplace explosion ensues.

Chopin is briefly swayed by a beautifully written love letter ostensibly from d'Agoult, a letter actually written by, and stolen from, Sand. Eventually Sand wins over Chopin when she proves that she wrote the letter, reciting its words to him passionately, and after buying a copy of her memoir he finds the text of the letter in the book.

Chopin is then challenged to a duel by one of Sand's ex-lovers. He faints during the face-off. Sand finishes the duel for him and nurses him back to health in the countryside, solidifying their relationship.

Near the end of the movie, Sand and Chopin dedicate a volume of music to the countess, although this only suggests that she has had an affair with Chopin, causing a falling-out with her lover Liszt. Sand and Chopin depart for Majorca, relieved to escape the competitive nature of artistic alliances and jealousies in Paris.


The film's supporting performances include David Birkin as Maurice, John Savident as Buloz, Lucy Speed as Young Aurora, and Elizabeth Spriggs as Baroness Laginsky.


Sarah Kernochan, director James Lapine's wife, had written the film in 1988 during a lay-off due to 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. Kernochan explained the film: "How do complicated people find a simple way of loving?" The producer Stuart Oken liked the project; his concern was to give Lapine "a chance to realize his vision and become a movie director." Oken brought the project to his friend and fellow producer, Dan Sherkow, who secured financing and distribution for the picture.[3]

For the cast, Lapine wanted "to use people he had worked with before." He cast actors who "didn't look like, but embodied the characters." Judy Davis and Mandy Patinkin could "hardly look more unlike the cultural icons they portray." Lapine hired a piano coach and a music consultant to advise both Grant and Sands on various piano techniques.[3]

Due to Common Market legalities, the film was incorporated as a British production with co-production by Ariane Films, a French company and distribution by a United States company Sovereign Pictures. The budget was $6 million.[3]






Impromptu was released on 12 April 1991 in the United Kingdom. It was later broadcast on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre in 1993.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Impromptu has received mixed to favorable reviews. According to the review aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 76% approval rating and an average score of 6/10 based on 17 reviews.[5] Jeff Millar of the Houston Chronicle wrote that the film is "a zingy, impudent little essay on gender, with the exquisitely confusing George Sand at its center."[6] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 3/4 stars, writing, "The film has little serious interest in George Sand, and almost none in the novels that are all that remain of her, but diverts itself with scandal, atmosphere, location, and witty repartee."[7]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave the film a positive review, likening it to the films of Ken Russell. Speaking of director James Lapine's approach, Maslin said, "Handling this material playfully, he tosses together the film's artistic luminaries and allows them to indulge in outrageous antics, like the scene that finds Sand pleading for Chopin's affections and telling him she needs only a minute of his time to explain her feelings." The New Yorker reviewer wrote that the film was "an ebullient and absurdly entertaining account of the famous love affair of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin. ...The historical figures in this movie are cartoons, but they’re cartoons with recognizable human qualities, and the actors look as if they were having a wonderful time charging around in their period costumes. Hugh Grant’s Chopin is a brilliant caricature of the Romantic ideal of the artist; he gives the character an air of befuddled unworldliness, and punctuates his readings with delicately timed tubercular coughs. Judy Davis plays Sand—a great actress in a great role."[8]


List of awards and nominations
Award Category Winner/Nominee Result
Independent Spirit Awards[9][10] Best Female Lead Judy Davis Won
Best Supporting Female Emma Thompson Nominated


  1. ^ "Impromptu (1991)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  2. ^ Chateau des Briottieres, accessed 25 December 2011
  3. ^ a b c Corbett, Patricia."In 'Impromptu,' It's George Sand And Chopin Again" (abstract)New York Times, 7 January 1990, pH13
  4. ^ Impromptu, accessed 25 December 2011
  5. ^ "Impromptu (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved April 24, 2018. 
  6. ^ Millar, Jeff."`Impromptu' a rewarding look at sexes" Houston Chronicle, 3 May 1991
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (3 May 1991). "Impromptu Movie Review & Film Summary (1991)". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Rafferty,Terrence."The Film File". Impromptu New Yorker, accessed 24 December 2011
  9. ^ Fox, David (30 March 1992). "'Rose' and 'Idaho' Get the Spirit : Movies: Each takes three trophies in the offbeat independent counterpoint to tonight's Academy Awards". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  10. ^ "Impromptu - Awards". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 

External links[edit]