The miniseries adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s book My Brilliant Friend has finally started on Sky Atlantic. Two girls become lifelong friends amidst the aggressive environment of ’50s Naples
Euan Franklin – Nov 19, 2018
There’s a scene in the middle of this first episode of My Brilliant Friend, based on the novel by the famous recluse Elena Ferrante, when a bunch of kids throw stones at each other on a dirt track with many cars and tractors speeding passed and through them. Any misplaced movement could mean serious injury or death.
It’s similar to a scene in Vittoria De Sica’s classic neo-realist film Bicycle Thieves, in which a son follows his father across a road and nearly gets run over by traffic (the father doesn’t even notice).
My Brilliant Friend presents many such instances, demonstrating the danger, carelessness and violence of this particular world, especially for children – bringing Italian Neo-Realism (1944-1952) to the modern day. And although this HBO series is more lavish and refined than what these post-war Italian filmmakers would’ve preferred, it’s no less real and hard.
Elena, in old age, receives a call on her smartphone. Her lifelong friend has gone missing. This prompts her to open up a laptop in the dark, and type out her whole story. She takes us to Naples in the ’50s, when she was a little girl (Elisa del Genio). She’s smart, and top of her class. She becomes curious with a girl, Lila (Ludovica Nasti), who’s as intelligent but far more rebellious. They both endure the anger and horror spilling from their environment, growing a friendship among the turmoil.