Books

Why Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend will be your new TV obsession this winter

Posted by
Anna Fielding
Published

The new TV adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is all we’d hoped for and more. 

Two girls play with dolls by 
a grate. The small, dark, furious one flings her friend’s doll into the basement. Not to be outdone, the blonde child sends the other doll down too. The girls look at each other. In trying to be bold, they’ve both lost something they care for. They are bonded and they have hurt each other.

The new TV adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend recreates that key scene just as you imagined. And what a relief. When books are as well-loved as Ferrante’s four Neapolitan Novels (with over 10 million copies sold), emotions run high. Although it started on 19 November, Stylist has been lucky enough to get a look
 at the first four episodes – here’s why you should tune in:

It stays incredibly close to the book

Yes, sometimes an adaptation will stray from the text and be all the more amazing (see The Handmaid’s Tale and Killing Eve), but we don’t think we could’ve borne major changes in this case. Ferrante worked with the director, Saverio Costanzo, and even supplied dialogue. He didn’t meet her though; the famously reclusive writer did it all over email. 

The cast is perfect 

The production company had a tough job. Not only did the actors need to look the part, the decision to have most of the dialogue in Fifties-era Neapolitan dialect made the search harder. They saw 500 adults and 9,000 children. But the end result was worth it. 

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Everything we know about the TV adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend

It takes you to Naples

The set is huge, with 14 apartment blocks constructed to create the neighbourhood of central characters Elena and Lila. And they use it so well, with action taking place in stairwells and local women shouting across courtyards. You’re put right in the middle.

It doesn’t romanticise 

There’s a lot of raw emotion in the books. They have a lot of heart, but there’s also plenty of darkness in there, too. It would’ve been terrible if Ferrante’s story was cleaned up and forced into
 a bright, picture postcard Italy-lite, but the setting and costumes are appropriately post-war austere. 

There’s more to come

Ferrante described her books as one novel divided into 
a quartet. The adaptation has taken the same route. This initial eight-part series deals with the first novel, so you have another three series to look forward to.

My Beautiful Friend is on Mondays, 9pm, on Sky Atlantic and Now TV

Images: Eduardo Castaldo/HBO

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Anna Fielding

Anna Fielding is the associate editor of Stylist. She looks after the magazine’s front section and features pages.

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