The TV version of Elena Ferrante’s great novel is faithful to the relationship at the book’s heart. And that feels revolutionary
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett – Nov 27, 2018
It’s always high-stakes viewing when a book you love is transferred to the screen. The world of the novel, vividly imagined, can feel flat and jarring when it’s beamed into being from another person’s brain. “That’s not how it’s supposed to be,” you think, because although the adored writer has sketched the outlines, someone else has art-directed it, colouring it in – more often than not in the wrong shades.
This is precisely what I worried would happen in the TV adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, the first novel in Elena Ferrante’s fiercely loved and lauded Neapolitan Quartet. How could anyone possibly succeed in translating such a vividly conjured setting and group of characters as the “neighbourhood” and its inhabitants to the screen?
And yet, they have done it. My Brilliant Friend aired last week on Sky Atlantic. A co-production between HBO and Italy’s Rai Fiction and Timvision, the whole thing is in a mixture of Italian and the Neapolitan dialect spoken in “the neighbourhood”, for which even Italian viewers need subtitles. And it’s brilliant. It succeeds entirely in bringing the world so many readers know to life – which is perhaps as much of a testament to the talents of Ferrante, who acted as consultant, as it is to the producers.