TV show should be top of your watchlist
In a word: Brilliant.
This stunning, vivid adaptation of Elena Ferrante's popular Neapolitan novels will burrow its way into your soul within minutes. It's a powerful and evocative TV series, its emotional force threatening to overwhelm you.
A co-production between American prestige drama giant HBO and Italian networks RAI and TIMvision, My Brilliant Friend starts tonight on Foxtel's Fox Showcase.
The show is named after the first novel in Ferrante's series. The first eight-episode season takes in the first book, with the entire TV show to be played out over 32 episodes over four seasons.
Ferrante's books have a cult-like devotion, and I'll admit I've never read them so this vividly rendered world in the TV series, and what a world it is, is new to me, free from the burden of expectation.
In the present day, an older woman receives a call from the son of a friend, with the news that friend has disappeared - she's taken all her clothes and left behind her photos, having cut herself out of every image.
The older Elena Greco, appears unconcerned and narrates in voiceover that it was something she suspected would happen, though she doesn't tell this to the distraught son of her friend Lila Cerullo.
Elena sits down at her computer and starts to write the story of the two of them, as young girls in a small town near Naples, hinting at something in Lila's past that would explain why she walked out on her life.
Elena and Lila grew up in the 1950s, in an impoverished neighbourhood where every family is struggling and where violence is casual, frequent and passed on.
Elena is a thoughtful, diligent and clever student but Lila is something else, an autodidactic prodigy with a brilliant mind and curious nature. Lila, the daughter of a shoemaker, is also rebellious and more than a little ungovernable.
The four-storey apartment blocks where they live - where every unit has a large family crammed in - is a community overrun by grudges, gossip and tempers.
It's a fully realised world, of boy fruit-sellers, intimidating loan sharks and parents who resent their children for going to school instead of working. Everything and everyone is covered in a layer of dust, a constant physical reminder of their desperate lives.
Elena and Lila bond like two people who don't quite belong there - clutching tight each other's hands like they do their precious copy of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, re-reading it until the pages are dog-eared and they can recite it line by line.
But being a smart girl in the 1950s isn't always going to get you anywhere - it may not even get you to middle school. The idea of fate and opportunity is woven through the story, of how arbitrary the circumstances of birth are and how it can doom you.
My Brilliant Friend is captivating, plunging you into this extraordinary story of these two characters, brought to life by a writing team that includes the elusive Ferrante, and directed by In Treatment helmer Saverio Costanzo.
The two young actors in the lead roles - Elisa Del Genio as Elena and Ludovica Nasti as Lila - are so good and natural, it's a real shame when the story progresses them to teens from episode three onwards.
That the series is, rightly, in Italian, forcing viewers to read the subtitles, means you won't be distracted by your phone - and it deserves no less than your full attention.
When there are dozens of new shows every month clamouring for your time, My Brilliant Friend is that rare find that should rocket to the top of your watchlist.
My Brilliant Friend starts tonight on Fox Showcase on Foxtel at 8.30pm AEDT.
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