Evening Standard: Monday’s best TV: My Brilliant Friend, Last Week Tonight and Blood

On Evening Standard

Susannah Butter – Nov 19, 2018

First of all, they’ve not ruined it.

Elena Ferrante’s novel My Brilliant Friend is known for its intricate descriptions and nuance, and is loved by everyone from Hillary Clinton to Alice Sebold.

So fans have set the bar high for this adaptation. If this first episode is anything to go by, they won’t be disappointed. It’s both faithful to the book and will open the story up to new audiences.

It begins, as the novel does, with Elena receiving a phone call from the son of childhood friend Raffaella Cerullo, who she calls Lila. Lila has disappeared, and not for the first time. It’s one dramatic gesture too far for Elena. Angry, she casts her mind back to her Fifties childhood, tracing how she and Lila became friends on a warm spring evening in Naples.

Ferrante was on board as a screenwriter (via email to preserve her secret identity). She struggled seeing her work stripped down to a screenplay but she was happy with the result. They even speak in the Neapolitan dialect of the Fifties so Italian viewers need subtitles too.

Before they utter a word you can immediately tell who is Elena and who is Lila — they have captured Elena’s curiosity and Lila’s irrepressible spirit and ambition. They wear covetable industrial-chic pinafores and knits in shades of grey and navy, with starched white collars.

More than 8,000 children and 500 adults auditioned for the show and the leads have no acting experience. Ludovica Nasti (Lila) had leukaemia when she was younger. Now 12, she is still unsure whether she wants to be a footballer or an actress when she grows up.

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