This authentic take on the first Neapolitan novel is the most honest and vivid portrait of the lives of young girls ever brought to TV
Rebecca Nicholson – Nov 19, 2018
Adapting much-loved books for the screen is risky and can be fraught, especially if a series has been as adored as Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. The characters live so vividly in readers’ minds that their TV forms may only be able to exist on a sliding scale of disappointment.
Thankfully, Saverio Costanza’s take on the first instalment, 2012’s My Brilliant Friend (Sky Atlantic), comes with an understated, solid confidence that suits its source material perfectly. Ferrante, whoever she may be, is credited as one of four writers on the show, so it is little wonder that it feels authentic, but this is a gorgeous TV show on its own merits.
It is unlikely that anyone who read the novels would expect a boisterous affair, but, even so, the first episode (of eight) unravels at a notably unhurried pace. This languid approach may be a turn-off for some, but it has a steady-handed charm. By the end of the first hour, we know Lenù and Lila as if we are close friends. Perhaps more perilous than trampling over beloved stories is relying on child actors to carry them, as is necessary in episode one, but Elisa del Genio, as Lenù, and Ludovica Nasti, as Lila, are remarkable. As fights and disagreements rise and fall around the girls, Costanza’s direction lingers on their expressive faces; the arduous casting process, which reportedly took months, was clearly worth it.
For those who have not read Ferrante’s novels – nobody should have trouble getting into the TV series, regardless of whether they have or not – the story begins when Elena (Lenù), at this point in her 60s, receives a phone call from the son of her childhood friend Lila. Lila is missing; she has taken her clothes with her and has cut up family photographs. Elena’s response is muted and eventually cold, teasing of a long and complicated past. “Learn to live on your own,” she advises him, suggesting she is unlikely to win an award for compassion any time soon: “And don’t call me again, either.”