My George Sand obsession is pretty well known among my friends and Facebook acquaintances, and I lay all the blame on Impromptu (1991) for starting it. So, here’s my top five reasons to watch this fabulous frock flick.
1. The Cast of Impromptu
Casting Judy Davis as George Sands was pretty genius, IMHO. She’s got the right amount of swagger and bravado, and she’s in no way too pretty. Which is not to say she isn’t attractive, more that she’s handsome. Hugh Grant does a good job of playing Frederic Chopin, and even though I swing wildly on the topic of whether he’s just pretty or an actually decent actor, I really enjoy watching him in this film. Emphasis on WATCHING. Jesus, the eye candy is strong, because not only do we have pretty Hugh Grant, Julian Sands is GORGEOUS as Franz Liszt. Bernadette Peters plays Liszt’s high-strung and slightly unhinged lover Marie D’Agoult. Mandy Patinkin is all that and a bag of chips as the author Alfred De Musset, one of George’s former lovers. Ralph Brown plays Eugene Delacroix like he just stepped out of a portrait, and Emma Thompson as the Duchess d’Antan is absolutely brilliant. Of course, when is Emma Thompson ever NOT brilliant? I’ll take my answer off the air.
Also, everyone from the casting director to the costumer did a pretty damn good job of finding actors who physically resembled the people they were portraying in the film. ESPECIALLY Julian Sands as Franz Liszt.
Even Hugh Grant is a passable physical likeness for a younger, somewhat healthier Chopin:
And my personal favorite, Ralph Brown as Eugene Delacroix:
2. The Menswear
Broadly speaking, Impromptu is a FANTASTIC costume flick, especially for an era that gets very little love both on and off the screen (the 1830s). There’s a few issues with hair styles that give it away as a 1990s film, but otherwise, the clothing, hair, and makeup are all quality. Jenny Beavan (costume designer for historical films such as Jefferson in Paris, Sense and Sensibility, Ever After, and A Room With A View to name only a few of her MANY film credits) clearly did her homework. Since the main character is a woman who dresses as a man for most of the film, the focus is very much on menswear — but as this period is a fabulous time for menswear (before it got super boring in the mid-19th century), I think there’s still plenty to get excited about.
3. The Women’s Wear
But lest you think that Impromptu is less frock than flick, let me assure you that there are PLENTY of fabulous gowns to be seen. Two members of the main cast (Emma Thompson and Bernadette Peters) are dressed primarily in upper-class female clothing. Also, George Sand wears a few dresses during key points in the movie, particularly towards the end.
4. Impromptu Is Light and Fluffy!
This film could have been a real tear-jerker, considering it deals with the doomed love affair between George Sand and Chopin. I’m a big fan of historical costume movies that don’t make me want to fling myself out of the nearest window after watching, so I’m absolutely fine with the focus being on the eccentric group of artists that formed part of George Sand’s circle and the shenanigans they get up to when trapped in the country under one roof. Some people may feel that the characters are more cartoony than particularly nuanced, but frankly, it’s refreshing to have an uncomplicated film that focuses on complicated people — especially if the costuming is really, really good.
5. The Liszt-Chopin Bromance
In real life, Liszt & Chopin were super tight until George’s falling out with Liszt’s baby mama, Marie D’Agoult. The movie follows this basic outline, but doesn’t really address the separation of the two composers other than Liszt goes off on a billion-city tour of Europe and Chopin gets increasingly infatuated with George. Still, the first half of the film deals with their close friendship. Also, unless I’m mistaken, nearly all the shots of Julian Sands and Hugh Grant playing the piano are of both actors actually playing. Sure, the music might have been dubbed in in post, but apparently both actors were given a good amount of training on the piano before filming began, so the scenes where they are playing look good enough to pass my muster (speaking as someone who spent the first third of her life tethered to a piano).
And now, a word about the hair in Impromptu…
Because I know if I didn’t say something, I’d get a million comments asking me why I failed to address the hair in this movie. Overall, the hairdressing in this film is great. The women’s hairstyles are good, if not a little understated for the era (compare with The Young Victoria, 2009, for how wacky women’s hair was in the 1830s), but the men’s hairstyles … See, I’m having trouble deciding if it is more 1990s-inspired than 1830s, but at least as far as the men who get the most amount of screen time are concerned, the hair looks believably 1830s. It’s just when George’s spurned lover, Mallefille, shows up that it all goes to hell:His hair is so appallingly styled, I have no EFFING idea what the hairdresser was high on. First, the guy has a super low hairline, so why on earth it was decided to give him a hairstyle that basically swallows his head down to his eyebrows, is anyone’s guess. Also, the fact that his side burns basically disappear entirely into a cloud of feathered hair does no favors for what’s left of his face. He’s supposed to be dashingly handsome (at least according to how the other characters comment on him) but he looks like a neanderthal compared to Julian Sands and Hugh Grant. But maybe that’s the point? That our girl George has a definite type that Chopin doesn’t really fit into? Maybe?
What are your thoughts on Impromptu? Share with us in the comments!