Irish Sunday Indipendent: Television: Child stars dazzle in absorbing coming-of-age Neapolitan saga

On Irish Sunday Indipendent

John Boland – Nov 25, 2018

The first episode of My Brilliant Friend (Sky Atlantic) offered convincing proof that you can enjoy the televising of a novel without knowing much, if anything, about where it came from.

Mind you, it’s been hard to avoid ongoing media speculation about the real identity of the book’s enigmatic pseudonymous author, Elena Ferrante, but all I knew about the bestselling and much-acclaimed novel itself was that it concerned the friendship of two young girls in the downtrodden Naples of the 1950s and that three succeeding novels have followed their lives into adulthood and beyond.

In this adaptation (with Ferrante credited as co-scriptwriter), we first meet Lenu in her sixties as she’s being informed that her lifelong friend Lila has gone missing – and reacting coldly to the news. Then it’s back to the Naples of 50 years earlier and the first meeting of the two schoolgirls in their often violent neighbourhood of tenement apartments.

This is all beautifully evoked by director Saverio Costanzo (the raucous classroom scenes are reminiscent of those in Fellini’s Amarcord), though he was fortunate to have at his disposal two extraordinary child actors in Elisa del Genio as the gravely watchful Lenu and Ludovica Nasti as her fiery little genius friend Lila.

These two command every scene, and the camera pays due attention to their every reaction, though the warring adults around them are vividly realised, too, and there’s a real sense of how children absorb and come to terms with the incomprehensible and often frightening idiocies of grown-up behaviour.

With seven episodes to go (and with the succeeding novels being adapted, too), this is an ambitious project that promises to explore social history and gender issues as well as the ongoing story of an intense if volatile friendship. If the opening instalment is anything to go by, it should be truly absorbing.

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