My Brilliant Friend: Complete Series
Two young girls stand before the door of the town loan shark, fiercely clasping hands. This image of female solidarity and defiance endures all the way through HBO’s adaptation of the first of Elena Ferrante’s beloved Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend. These girls and their intense bond form the series’ core – Elena ‘Lenù’ Greco, who will grow up to be a writer, and her brilliant friend, Lila Cerullo, whose life will take a series of bleaker turns. Each girl faces the hypocrisies, indignities, and injustices of class and gender in postwar Naples as we follow them as teenagers and young women across eight engrossing episodes.
When an acclaimed and adored work of fiction is adapted into a film or television series, it’s often greeted with equal parts anticipation and anxiety. I’m happy to report that My Brilliant Friend is both faithful to Ferrante’s novel – she is one of four screenwriters – and its own special entity. It starts as the novel does, with a distressed phone call to sixty-year-old Lenù from Lila’s son, with the news that his mother has been missing for two weeks. As she sits down to write the story of their lives, the older Lenù provides an intermittent voiceover, offering some essential insights into her perspective on past events.
Director Saverio Costanzo vividly captures the heated, frequently violent eruptions that define the impoverished neighbourhood where the girls come of age. The cruelty and oppressiveness of this space is palpable. Thankfully, this American co-production is an Italian affair in the acting credits too – the Neapolitan dialect is retained and the performances have a texture and tone that is authentic to this time and place.
I’m always amazed by how radical it feels to see female friendship depicted on screen, especially when it looks like this – shaped by love and compassion, but also deep jealousies and destructive rivalries. There is no sentimentality here. A second season, based on book two, The Story of a New Name, is currently in production. It seems I’ve caught Ferrante fever once again