Amazon have ramped up their London office with staff for their Prime Video service. Yesterday they announced they had won sports rights to show men’s ATP tennis matches. They’re thinking and playing big. As they did with this adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final novel: The Last Tycoon.
This series has everything. Over one hundred cast members. It stars Kelsey Grammer, Matt Bomer, Lily Collins and… is that… yes, Jennifer Beals of Flashdance. British audiences haven’t seen her on the screen for ages. Her arrival in episode two, as global superstar Margo Taft, was mesmerising. As for all of the best characters in this show, she is modelled on a real-world analogue. In Taft’s case, it is the actress Merle Oberon.
The critics here have not been kind. But this critic is impressed. It takes a lot of money to make a series look this good, and often the polish can be at the expense of heart. Sky’s Riviera is a case in point. Glossy shots, great locations, but no soul. The Last Tycoon does fine. Yes, it does take a few episodes to settle in, but so do many prize-winning novels.
Tycoon has been done on screen before, most notably in 1976 with Robert De Niro as Monroe. But one suspects the 1976 budget was nothing compared to this. There are no new stories in Hollywood any more. They either remake their own hits, or steal from books or television or, sometimes, theatre. But this was a time, in the twenties and thirties, when everything in Hollywood was new. Even colour.
The world has moved on, massively. But there is still room in our living rooms for a good old-fashioned look back at a time when Hollywood was the Silicon Valley of its day. Anyone who looked half-decent and could pout was shipping out west. It was a time when Louis B. Mayer was pioneering alongside Warners and the rest. There were riches, and there were cowboys. And it all makes for a very strong drama.
The Best Tycoon
Great cast, great polish and a very relevant story.