“My Brilliant Friend” lives up to its adjective, creating such a rich, exquisitely rendered plunge into mid-20th-century Naples that it’s difficult not to get totally sucked into the hardscrabble, small-village lives. Shot in Italian, after watching six of the eight episodes, there’s not much to say but “fantastico.”
Adapted from the bestselling book by Elena Ferrante, who worked on the scripts with director Saverio Costanzo and others, and produced in concert with European networks, the production has done a masterful job of preserving the writer’s voice. The real triumph, though, is in the casting, especially the young actresses who play the central characters at different ages.
Like the book, the story begins by flashing back, as Elena, now in her 60s, is informed that her one-time bosom pal Lila has disappeared. Sounding more resigned than surprised, she quickly begins reminiscing about their upbringing, when the two were the smartest girls in their class, during a time of post-war upheaval and poverty when girls weren’t encouraged to study or seek to elevate their station beyond that of their parents.
Fearless, rebellious and more than a little mysterious, Lila (Ludovica Nasti) exhibits a powerful hold over Elena (Elisa Del Genio), inspired a mix of admiration and envy. They reside in a town where there’s little ostensible authority and the working people struggle to get by, while living in fear of characters like the loan-shark Don Achille, who Elena’s narration describes as “the ogre of fairy tales.”