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Image / Editorial

A compelling take on female friendship: ‘My Brilliant Friend’ should be your next TV obsession

by Jennifer McShane
21st Nov 2018

When I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, I was instantly hooked on their unique portrayal of a female friendship over the course of 50 years. Its material was made for TV, so it came as little surprise when I heard that HBO – famed for their complex and engaging programming – would adapt the series into a show. Another element of intrigue is that the author herself has always preferred anonymity; her books have sold over ten million copies since the release of the first book in 2011, but we know very little of the writer, which only adds to the overall allure of the storytelling. If you’re looking for a new TV obsession and one that depicts the high, lows, and utter complexities of female friendship in all its guises  – this series is it.

The plot remains hugely faithful to the books  

Important, because the source material is so strong; I’ve read very few takes on female friendship as well-observed as this. The series –  based on four books in total – begins with two young girls, Lila and Lenu, who live in an impoverished part of post-war Naples, Italy. They are both extremely intelligent, but their differences bring them together – as well as drive a wedge between them. At the start, one is allowed to stay on after primary school and the other forced to stop studying and work in the family business. We see everything initially through the eyes of the young girls, both drawn together for what separates and unites them; Lila, the one avoided by all hiding behind a curtain of dirty hair, while Lenu, more studious and a people-pleaser is drawn to her because she is unafraid, determined to discover all that is joyful and dark in the world. They unite over their fierce appetite for discovery and exploration.

What follows is their journey as friends through to adulthood. Their lives diverge and the intense friendships splinters; they are simultaneously each other’s best friends and worst enemies.  My Brilliant Friend ends as the protagonists enter early adulthood, while the following three books – The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child – chronicle their friendship as it continues at various points in their lives. Each experiences all walks of life from love, adultery, marriage, abuse, poverty, motherhood and loss, yet their complex, often volatile friendship remains that crucial, compelling thread.

It’s a true adaptation of the book series in its entirety 

And we don’t just get one book; this series will form 32 episodes, divided into eight episodes for each book. Ferrante described her books as one novel divided into a quartet, so fittingly, the adaptation has given respect to the source material and taken the same route. This initial eight-part series deals with the first novel, and the other series will deal with the remaining three.

It’s honest and vivid, at least from the initial episode and with a casting process that reportedly took months, all the hard work has seemingly paid off. The series is a hit with critics and viewers alike, its gorgeous aesthetics, competent direction from Saverio Costanzo and mesmerising performances from young actors Ludovica Nasti and Elisa del Genio – by the end of the first episode, we feel we know both girls – all unanimously praised.

Even if you’ve not read the books – add them to your kindle list now – this is a gorgeous story, emotional and hugely potent that can exsist all on its own.

My Beautiful Friend is on Mondays, 9pm, on Sky Atlantic and also available to stream on Now TV