James Poniewozik – Nov 17, 2018
In 2011, HBO began a series based on a set of books whose legion of fans had exacting expectations. Game of Thrones required condensing a vast narrative, visualizing wonders like dragons’ flight and creating a world that spanned continents.
HBO’s new series My Brilliant Friend, based on the wildly popular Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante, is a different but no smaller challenge. The story of a febrile and rivalrous friendship between two girls in a working-class Italian neighbourhood in the 1950s, it is as intimate as Thrones is sweeping.
The first season, which begins Sunday, is set largely in a single cluster of apartments. Its drama, though punctuated by violence, is interior and inwardly focused. It enfolds warring families and shifting alliances, but in a setting where everyone is packed close and prying eyes and whispers are inescapable.
It is a game of courtyards, stairwells and balconies. But as earthbound as it is, My Brilliant Friend is no less transporting.For readers of the books, it is probably enough to know that the first season, which corresponds to the first of the four novels, sticks close to the source material. For newcomers, that is the story of Elena Greco, called Lenù, and Rafaella Cerullo, called Lila. They form an ardent bond their first year of school, in a dusty, lowrise neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples.