Howards End (Starz 2017-18)

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Howards End is not new to the screen, having been adapted by the book written by E.M. Forester’s into a movie in 1992 staring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.  Starz has a new series out that expands on the movie version in four parts, starring Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfayden.

It’s a slow moving and somewhat odd story of three families in the scheme of English society, focusing on the middle-class Schlegels, a wealthy family named the Wilcoxes, and a poor working class family named the Basts.

The Schlegel family, who consist of three siblings, meet the Wilcoxes, and through various interactions and visitations become acquaintances. Margaret Schlegel forms a friendship with Mrs. Wilcox. At her death, she leaves her family home, Howards End, to Margaret.  The children and Mr. Wilcox decide that the bequest scrawled on a piece of paper during her illness should not be honored.

As time passes, Mr. Wilcox forms an attachment to Margaret.  In the storyline enters the Basts, who have an integral part to play in the tale of the three families.  Frankly, it’s a convoluted intersecting of all involved.  The story is filled with conversation in every scene, which requires your attention to understand the characters and their motivations for their behavior.

Having watched the 1992 version and this mini-version, I am inclined to prefer the latest Starz television production.  It’s well acted, with good choices of those who played the parts of each of these complicated characters.  The story is definitely not for everyone, and probably enjoyed more by those who love the Edwardian era before WWI.  The sets and costumes are done very well, which helps to immerse the audience into the times and values of the day.

I’ll throw four kernels at the screen for this one.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon 2017)

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Ready for streaming on Amazon is another well-done series focusing on Zelda Sayre (played by Christina Ricci), the infamous wife of the renown author F. Scott Fitzgerald (played by David Hoflin). This version is based on a book, “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler. Naturally, I’m fascinated by this story for a variety of reasons.

The period drama begins during World War I when Zelda meets the young and handsome would-be author about to go off to war.  Struggling with his first novel and dealing with rejections, he quickly falls for the southern sweetie with a mind of her own. Zelda, to her father’s disappointment, is not the obedient young daughter he desires, but rather one who is out and about drinking and carousing with the boys in town. She wants to leave the dull southern life and see the lights of the big cities.

Her romance with Fitzgerald is quickly ignited, but he leaves for war. They write and keep in touch, and even after his return to New York, they continue to correspond. When his first book is finally published, “This Side of Paradise,” Fitzgerald is riding high on royalties, and Zelda comes to New York. They quickly marry, and she is drawn into the author’s world of booze and non-stop parties. At first, she struggles to fit in with his friends but remakes herself into the roaring twenties hot flapper that made a name for herself as Fitzgerald’s wife.

The series is well paced, though a bit slow in the beginning as you are introduced to Zelda’s world and family. Ricci has a thick-as-syrup southern accent.  At times she appears physically plain and unattractive, but as she morphs into the daring young lady at her husband’s side in New York City, she gains the attention of everyone, including the press.

If you have ever read about either of their lives, they both had sad endings.  LIFE SPOILER:  Zelda was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent her last years in an asylum where she died in a fire. Fitzgerald, a heavy drinker all of his life, ruined his health with booze, and he dropped dead of a heart attack. Eventually, their marriage ended on the rocks with both having affairs.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting peek into the lives of a well-known couple who rode the waves of high success because of Fitzgerald’s literary fame. It’s worth the watch and will continue beyond Season One.

While watching Z, I will admit that I am more fascinated with F. Scott Fitzgerald than with Zelda. The story also shows this great author’s extreme weakness and lack of confidence. I am reminded of a quote that Robert DeNiro gave at the Oscars in 2014 introducing the screenplay category.  It’s spot on for some of the greats like Fitzgerald and Hemmingway who struggled with demons and booze in spite of their brilliance.

“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

As an author, I’ve never striven to be famous. Instead, I enjoy writing stories for the sheer enjoyment because I cannot stop the addiction. Being single and alone, it also saves me from becoming a cat lady, hoarding junk, and never going out of doors. (Although I do tend to hibernate more than I should on weekends.) As far as the caffeine, procrastination, panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy, I totally relate but stay away from the booze.

V for Vicki