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

“I’m sorry old man, I believe this is my dance,” says a striking blond soldier to the man escorting the big-eyed girl at a dance in Montgomery, Alabama, in the opening episode of Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon).

So begins a celebrated celebrity relationship that will take in literary New York, the jazz age, the French Riviera, champagne and cocaine highs, lows of fighting, cheating, mental illness, then, for her, tragic death in a fire. Because he is F Scott Fitzgerald, and she is Zelda Sayre, who will become his wife and muse.

And yet we don’t get to any of that in the three episodes I’ve seen. Each is short, at half an hour – more sitcom length than that of a serious drama. And yet – tellingly – it feels about right. Because Z: The Beginning of Everything, adapted from Therese Anne Fowler’s novel about Zelda’s life, is slight.

It’s pretty and full of great southern period detail. The dances, dresses, houses, cars and trains are all lovely. And I enjoyed individual scenes, such as the one in which Zelda and her two best girlfriends park outside the local brothel to sex-shame the visiting men, all of whom they know by name (there’s not much to do in Montgomery, c 1920).

There is a spirited performance from Christina Ricci as the southern belle who is too big, too bold, too modern and too bright for her buttoned-up town and her conventional father, a judge. And it hints already at the melancholy that will later consume her.

Playing opposite her, David Hoflin is uninspiring; come on man, you’re F Scott Fitzgerald, where’s the passion? She may be the focus, but their relationship is at the heart of the story. Together, however, there’s none of the chemistry, the fire and thunder of the great writer and the woman whose heart (and words) he stole.

Maybe it will catch fire when they are in the big city, when the jazz and the fizz begin to flow. Perhaps Hemingway will provide some swagger when he shows up. So far, though, it has been fairly perfunctory and flat. Beautiful trees, though. I forgot to mention the trees.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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