Duds & Cancellations: The Problems With Adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald

Deadline is reporting that British playwright and screenwriter Nina Raine has been tapped to write the limited series adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night novel for Hulu. The project, from Colin Callender’s Playground Entertainment, has been in development at Hulu since 2018.



In 2017, both The Last Tycoon and the Fitzgerald-related Z: The Beginning of Everything were cancelled by Amazon, not a great sign that these latest projects will attract many viewers. Tender is The Night was last tackled by ‘Dirty’ Dennis Potter as a series for the BBC in 1985 – and before that was was a movie starring Jason Robards back in 1961:


Tender Is the Night (1962) Official Trailer #1 - Jason Robards Movie HD


2017’s Amazon Original series The Last Tycoon was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel and starred Matt Boomer (White Collar), Kelsey Grammer and Lily Collins. Unfortunately it was excruciatingly dull and really didn’t appear to know who it was aimed at.


The book was also was adapted by Harold Pinter for Elia Kazan’s final movie in 1976. Unfortunately the film was another ass-numbing experience, despite the presence of Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum and Jeanne Moreau in the cast.


The Last Tycoon - Trailer


And then there’s Gatz, touting itself as a Gatsby secret origin story based on unsubstantiated take-outs from the novel it posits Gatsby in a similar fashion as a Coleman Silk, the protagonist of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. Anyway, it looks like the Youtube Premium show is in limbo, and is probably for the best.



The Human Stain Official Trailer!


Older TV series included Dennis Potter’s aforementioned Tender is the Night (1985, stared Peter Kraus and Mary Steenburgen), the TV movie version of The Great Gatsby (Toby Stephens/Mira Sorvino) and Tales from the Hollywood Hills: Pat Hobby Teamed With Genius with Christopher Lloyd and a young Colin Firth.


Very Young and Cute Colin Firth Playing an Arrogant Genius Writer 🙂


Fitzgerald often featured as character himself on TV and film, including depictions of the man himself in TV/OTT series such as Z: The Beginning of Everything (David Hoflin), The Last of the Belles (Richard Chamberlain) and Last Call (Jeremy Irons, with another dodgy US accent) as well as movies such as Midnight in Paris (Tom Hiddleston) and Beloved Infidel (Gregory Peck).


Last Call (2002) Trailer - Jeremy Irons, Neve Campbell and Sissy Spacek |


Do adaptations of his work usually succeed in pulling in viewers? The qualified answer has to be a ‘No’. F .Scott appears to work better as a character – with his battles with booze, disastrous relationship with Zelda and washed-up Hollywood decline. The last (Baz Luhrmann) movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby didn’t exactly wow the critics, although Benjamin Button did well enough in part due to its atypical nature as a fantasy.


Which reminds us that Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Thomas Mann produced Felix Krull, and Jack London authored The Assassination Bureau, Ltd.


The Assassination Bureau - Trailer


The fact that Amazon went all in and commissioned two shows that were Fitzgerald-related when his track record is poor in terms of adaptations was curious – maybe part of disgraced former boss Roy Price’s attempt to be in with the swells, channeling his inner Joseph Kennedy’s advice to write ‘a book to impress the eggheads’. 


Even Robert Redford at the height of his fame couldn’t breathe life into Gatsby, whilst Brad Pitt was something of a void as Benjamin Button.  Is Fitzgerald’s rather toffee-nosed world view and rather mannered style out of sync with current audiences in a way other ‘classic’ authors aren’t? 



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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'