Another sumptuous drama here on a subscriber service. It’s almost like this is where the big bucks reside in these digital days. Z: The Beginning of Everything is the story of Zelda Fitzgerald, Mrs F Scott Fitzgerald to you dear. It’s based on Therese Anne Fowler’s book which Christina Ricci read and wanted to audition for. It turns out no one was making it, so she decided to do it herself. Ricci says that Zelda had suffered bad press over the years, with the focus firmly set on her genius husband. Ricci was sick of her being overlooked and sets out to flip that script.
Ricci with her soulful doe eyes and her fierce blonde bob is Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a brilliant, beautiful and talented Southern belle, the original flapper and an icon of the Jazz Age in the flamboyant 1920s. Zelda is young and bored to death in her little quaint country town of Montgomery, Alabama. Having never been to the American south it looks lovely to me – all wide tree-lined avenues, sugary iced tea and cotillion balls at the country club.
Zelda fancies herself a free spirit, who longs for a bigger and better life. She’s determined to do whatever she wants, wilfully defying her parents at every turn whether the decisions are ultimately good for her or not. Given how strict her Dad is – everyone refers to him as the Judge, whether he’s on duty or not – I’m surprised they didn’t seem to teach her any boundaries. You know that romantic young man who makes promises too good to be true? Steer well clear my love. It’ll only end in tears. Zelda is bratty, beautiful and she knows it. Sadly she’s just a few decades too early for posing in sunglasses with tiny dogs on Instagram, but if she were alive now, that’s exactly how she’d spend her days.
David Hoflin is Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald (where he gets the unnecessary extra F from, I’m not sure – everyone calls him Scott) on manoeuvres near her home town towards the end of the first world war. Theirs is a chaotic love story from the off. There’s early signs he’s a problem drinker, but she’s so in love with him and the idea of her new celebrity life that she lets it slide. He’s an artist so he has to suffer, right? But to her credit Zelda makes him wait until he’s sold his book before she’ll move to New York and marry him, maybe for his own good, or maybe because Scott has to be America’s most exciting young novelist before she’ll commit. She don’t want no scrub. In the beginning Zelda has such power over him, and forces him to knuckle down and work. Sadly as soon as they’re together that ability slips away.
She swiftly ditches the lace frocks and parasols of Alabama to embrace the flapper fashions of New York. “Scott I want you to love me for who I am, but I’ll cut my hair and change my clothes to fit in with the bitchy city girls at the drop of a hat pin!” This was her plan all along I think – she was always too big for little ol’ Montgomery. Scott was a bit of an unwitting facilitator. So he gets busy drinking with his university frat squad (rah! rah! rah!) and she gets busy buying pretty things. He hides his money troubles from her, and then blames her for being broke. But she’s no fool and she can see he’s stagnating under the pressure of writing the great American novel.
Zelda spends her time literally propping up her drunken husband, devoting herself to this selfish man-child who needs constant reassurance from his muse. She might have real writing talent but he puts a stop to any personal development he doesn’t like. He demands use of her diary for his work (what the actual fuck?) and he’s jealous how she can turn her hand to most things and be seemingly effortlessly successful. All the while they’re pretending their life is one big spectacular party, that the money and the gin will keep flowing forever and they’re the outrageous celebrity couple to be adored and emulated. How tiring. No wonder nothings happening on the book front. And by the end of the series nothing is going right.
Former Neighbours actor David Hoflin was pretty unrecognisable as Scott and delivers a fairly flawless American accent throughout. Given he’s Swiss-Australian that’s pretty good going! Ricci’s southern drawl, on the other hand, sounds so affected and false. It nearly ended it all for me at episode 1 because it was so irritating.
Almost by accident I’ve watched the whole first series. That’s very nearly 5 hours of tv and I can’t think what to say about it. I’ve got no strong opinions to give, and as you know, for me that’s pretty damn unusual. Mirroring Scott’s rather sad life, this series is about fashion, parties, shagging and drinking. It’s not about the literature.
It’s so easy to watch because each episode is under 30 minutes long. It has to keep the pace going and hasn’t the time for plodding. And hitting the just one more button has never been easier. Unsurprisingly it’s been renewed for a second series, with Scott and Zelda’s strange and strained relationship having many years ahead and book number 2 being barely 12 pages long the last time we saw Scott with a pen in hand.
If you want something beautiful and fairly unchallenging to look at, give it a try. It’s very moreish but not very nourishing. This is popcorn tv.
Series 1 of Z: The Beginning of Everything is available now on Amazon Prime.