After vast international success, the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books, ‘My Brilliant Friend’, has finally been adapted for the big screen. Critics have described the raging success of this pseudonymous Italian writer as ‘Ferrante fever’. This literary epidemic has led to great anticipation for this new 8-chapter television series.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ferrante and her works, the famous 4-part Neapolitan series is a bildungsroman, following the lives of two girls living in a poor neighbourhood just outside of Naples. Both the book and the TV series begin in modern time. One of the female protagonists (who is also the narrator of all four books), Elena Greco, receives a phone call from the son of her best friend, Lila. He reports that his mother has recently disappeared. Despite his panic, Elena is calm and seems unsurprised. She, in fact, expresses that she expected something like this to happen. We are then taken back to the 1950s to witness the very start of the girls’ relationship and follow the growth and development of their two characters through several decades of their lives.
The two female protagonists are accompanied by a variety of other colourful characters, the families of the neighbourhood – working class men, housewives, and, of course, their children. One aspect which may be lost on English viewers is the use of Neapolitan dialect by these members of the neighbourhood. This dialect requires subtitles even for Italian viewers. The predominant use of Neapolitan dialect sets the scene of the neighbourhood, which is engulfed by poverty, with few people educated enough to be able to speak Italian.
Not only did the first episode of this series give deserved screen time to the two female protagonists – something which seems fitting for 2018 – but it also highlights their intellect. With illiterate parents and a lack of resources, the motivational drive of these two girls to gain a good education and to succeed is commendable. Ferrante’s head-strong female characters in a largely male-dominated world is refreshing and praiseworthy.
With a Rotten Tomato rating of 93% and countless good reviews by notable critics, it is certain to say that this dramatic mini-series has captured the attention of people all over the world. Unlike many film adaptations which leave many fans disappointed, My Brilliant Friend has already proved a great success. The big secret? An outstanding cast, fantastic set and, perhaps the most important thing: the fact that this television series is following the book almost to the letter.