Z: The Beginning of Everything – The House of Eliott, with more drugs

Christina Ricci is Zelda Sayre, running off with David Hoflin’s F Scott Fitzgerald to jazz-age New York City in this superficial biopic that manages to be great fun

What is it? A big-budget bio about Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s romance, I do de-claya.

Why you’ll love it: Christina Ricci stars as the capricious Zelda Sayre, the young southern belle who catches the eye of Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald, on manoeuvres near her home town of Montgomery, Alabama, towards the end of the first world war. It may take an overly long runup, but Zelda and Scott’s eventual marriage and drunken car crash of a relationship are still a source of fascination, 100 years after the fact.

Anyone hoping to journey to the dark heart of two of literary history’s most intriguing characters will leave after the starter. But anyone looking for a superficial biopic that throws in every possible cliche about flappers, writers and ill-advised marriage will find this delicious. Not at all filling, more like eye chewing-gum. The House of Eliott with more drugs.

It is all frustratingly slow at the beginning of their courtship. She is bored and he isn’t like the other boys. This could have been swiftly dealt with in episode one. It’s not a new story, nor a particularly new way of telling it, but something about the glint of mischief in Ricci’s eye should be enough to maintain your curiosity until Zelda finally breaks free of her Montgomery moorings and boards the train to New York at the end of episode three.

Ricci plays Zelda like Hedda Gabler’s bratty kid sister, rolling her eyes, escaping through her bedroom window to illicit dance parties with randy soldiers wielding hip-flasks of gin, and generally misbehaving. All to the chagrin of her careworn father, played with quiet and noble restraint by David Strathairn of Goodnight and Good Luck fame. His world is one of constant social scrutiny and he occupies it stiffly, trying to maintain decorum as his wayward youngest leads a life of growing infamy, straining at the bonds of polite southern society.

Alabama is all brightly lit drawing rooms and stifling heat, but things improve in New York. The cinematography gets grittier and the pace picks up as the story turkey-trots into the jazz age. Zelda’s metamorphosis from primly dressed country girl to metropolitan sex siren is fully embraced by the wardrobe department and Ricci looks far more at home vamping it up in NYC’s seedy nightclubs than she did strolling by the river under a parasol. When the cast start having fun, so do we.

Former Neighbours actor David Hoflin, a Swiss-born Australian playing F Scott F, delivers a pretty flawless American accent throughout, but has a harder job as the lovelorn author who initially only has eyes for Zelda, his notepad or whiskey. His performance gradually gets airborne as the cracks appear in their marriage and everyone gets drunk/goes mad.

It may seem odd to recommend what amounts to a whole lot of expensive fluff, but Ricci’s Zelda promises more than just surface and the roaring 20s during prohibition, where everyone drinks hooch in speakeasies, seems like a good place to live right now. Pass the gin.

Where: Amazon Prime

Length: Ten episodes, all available to stream.

Stand-out episode: Of those I’ve seen, episode three is when the engines kick in and the plot motors towards the lively environs of jazz-age NYC.

If you liked Z: The Beginning of Everything, watch: Peaky Blinders (Netflix), Parade’s End (Netflix).


Julia Raeside

The GuardianTramp

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