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).

Contributor

Julia Raeside

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Specials review – it's more than a TV show, it's a voice for unrepresented young people
Streamed on a homemade website, this terrifically absorbing docusoap tells simple stories of love and the rocky transition into adulthood for a group of friends with special needs

Julia Raeside

26, Oct, 2017 @3:30 PM

Article image
Z: The Beginning of Everything review – come on Zelda, Scott, where's the passion?
Amazon’s tale of The Great Gatsby’s writer and his muse is strong on jazz-age detail but fails to fizz

Sam Wollaston

28, Jan, 2017 @6:20 AM

Article image
GameFace review - a show that sidesteps the singleton comedy cliches
Roisin Conaty’s thirtysomething heroine is directionless, enthusiastic and, above all, funny

Julia Raeside

23, Nov, 2017 @5:56 PM

Article image
The Marvellous Mrs Maisel: from the writer of Gilmore Girls, with brazen nods to Mad Men
This tale of a 50s New York Jewish housewife breaking out from her marriage is a twinkling star in Amazon’s pilot season

Julia Raeside

16, Mar, 2017 @7:01 PM

Article image
Gypsy review – Naomi Watts is a charmless psychotherapist in a 'risk-taking lesbian' disguise
The actor is directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson – and while such pedigree might lure you in, the execution is awful

Julia Raeside

29, Jun, 2017 @3:00 PM

Article image
The Tick review – a beacon of bizarreness in a relatively normal superhero universe
Dressed as a 6ft 4in blue insect, Peter Serafinowicz’s superhero is a throwback to the Golden Age of Comic Books – but with everything just a fraction off

Gwilym Mumford

24, Aug, 2017 @3:11 PM

Article image
Coconut review – at least each episode is only seven minutes long
This mock-documentary sitcom about a Brit-loving Pakistani TV presenter is so clunky that even the superb performances can’t save it

Julia Raeside

10, Aug, 2017 @3:08 PM

Article image
The Defenders review – Sigourney Weaver shines in Marvel's humdrum Avengers-lite
Gratification will follow the periods of boredom if you persevere until episode three

Stuart Heritage

18, Aug, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Keepers review – a breathtakingly brave true-crime documentary
Full of twists and revelations, the new Netflix series meticulously examines the cold case of a nun killed in Baltimore in 1969 – and it’s so much more than just the new Making a Murderer

Julia Raeside

19, May, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Queer Britain review – the kind of TV that should be shown in schools
YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf explores everything from bulimia to homelessness within an LGBTQ context

Julia Raeside

01, Jun, 2017 @4:30 PM