Too bad I don’t have Amazon Prime Video. If I did, I’d watch Z: The Beginning of Everything when the series airs Friday, January 27, 2017.
The trailer has been airing on TV, but I paid it no mind. I don’t subscribe to the streaming service, but Wednesday, through my membership with the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, I scored a screening pass at the SVA Theatre in midtown to view two episodes.
Security scurrying me past the red carpet that was actually a gun-metal gray was the first indication that there were celebrities amidst us. Even if I weren’t whisked directly into the theater, I wouldn’t have seen a thing. My 5’4” frame didn’t clear the wall of photographers and their strobing camera flashes.
Side note: I’ve personally witnessed several “red carpets” for premieres. They’re underwhelming. When I watch on TV, there’s the impression they stretch on for miles, when in reality the carpet is sometimes no longer than 20-30 feet, if even that, outside or inside the theater. The background, which I’ve learned is called a step-and-repeat banner, or step and repeater, is usually no taller than 8 feet. Z’s red carpet was inside the theater.
Before entering the screening room, I was treated to complementary buttered popcorn and my choice of bottled water or lemon ice tea. Hungry and relieved I didn’t have to come out-of-pocket for overpriced theater refreshments, I went for the ice tea and grabbed a bag. As an early arriver I was seated in the second row of the small theater.
Christina Ricci executive produces and stars in the 10-part, half-hour series based on Therese Anne Fowler’s 2013 New York Times bestselling Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, which I added to my already bloated Goodreads “To Read” queue after the screening. I also added F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, which played a major part in the Fitzgeralds’ relationship.
But I’m jumping ahead. Before the screening, Christina Ricci, dressed in a mostly black but multi-colored, pleated dress with shoulder and midriff cutouts and a blunt, blonde bob addressed the audience from her notes. She expressed nervousness about public speaking, called the project her second baby and thanked the audience which included some producers of the show.
The audience was treated to episodes 3 and 4 of Z: The Beginning of Everything. We were told it’s they wanted us to experience the New York scenes. We did get to glimpse the last days of then Zelda Sayre’s days in Alabama as a suffragette, her contentious relationship with her father, hanging out with friends, and being courted by a young man, even as she continued to write letters to her former beau Francis Scott Fitzgerald in New York.
Fitzgerald is a young, struggling writer in New York who spends his nights drinking and partying with former college friends during the Prohibition era. They’re the epitome of rich, white male privilege. He confesses to a friend that Zelda wants nothing to do with him until he’s published his book, which he’s struggling to rewrite. One night after returning from a party, Fitzgerald experiences a flash of writing inspiration (read: plagiarism) while reading Zelda’s latest letter.
Cut to Fitzgerald finally selling his manuscript and Zelda receiving a gift and letter from Fitzgerald sharing the news and once again proposing marriage. This time she accepts. Getting married is her first order of business after she and her sister arrive in New York via train. They head straight from the train station to the church to a party in the honeymoon suite at the ritzy Biltmore. Fitzgerald’s friends outnumber Zelda and her two sisters. She chokes back sobs when she calls her mother in the downstairs lobby.
Zelda displays more of the feistiness that causes her to butt heads with her father when, exasperated by the guests overstaying their welcome, she steps out into the main room, nude, declaring that she’d like to have her husband to herself. As an audience member, I wondered what Ricci felt and thought watching herself naked onscreen with 100+ strangers.
The costumes, cars, furniture, buildings and city are believable and easily transport you back to the 1920s. The show is also beautifully filmed. I lament not subscribing to the streaming service because I feel like I’m going to miss out on something good. The Fitzgeralds don’t have an ordinary romance. I wouldn’t be surprised if next award season the show is nominated across several categories. At least I have the book, which though fictionalized account of Zelda and her relationship, I expect to be great.