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

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Moya Crockett
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The first book of Elena Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan series is being turned into a TV show – and it looks incredible. 

Few book series have captured the world’s attention like Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. The titles in the four-part series – which follow the entwined lives of friends Elena and Lila in the Italian city of Naples – have sold well over 5 million copies, in nearly 50 countries around the world.

This success is in no small part down to Ferrante’s ability to explore the subtle grievances and joys of female friendship, the violence and repression experienced by women who attempted to defy convention in the mid-20th century, and to capture a precise time and place in recent history: working-class Italy in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

An eight-part TV series based on the first book in the Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend, is currently in the works at HBO. The first teaser trailer dropped on 30 August – and while fans had justifiable concerns about their beloved books being adapted for the screen, it looks like the show will do Ferrante’s words justice. 

In the trailer, we see Elena and Lila as children in 1950. Elena, a bright girl from a poor family, is told that her parents cannot afford to keep sending her to school – despite being, in her brother’s words, the “smartest person in the neighbourhood”. As in the books, Elena’s teacher pushes her mother to allow her to continue studying.

We also witness Elena being drawn into the unpredictable, exciting and occasionally frightening world of Lila, a girl from her neighbourhood who becomes her best friend. Over the course of My Brilliant Friend, Elena and Lila grow from children to teenagers, and their intense and rocky friendship splinters as their lives diverge.

It’s only a short teaser trailer, but it suggests that the TV adaptation of My Brilliant Friend will capture the grit, violence, intrigue and romance that made Ferrante’s books so compelling. Here’s everything else we know about the show so far… 

Ludovica Nasti (left) as Lila and Elisa Del Genio as Elena in a still from My Brilliant Friend 

Who is in the cast for My Brilliant Friend?

Italian actors Elisa Del Genio and Ludovica Nasti play Elena and Lila as children, while Margherita Mazzucco and Gaia Girace take on their roles as teenagers.

Casting for the show took place over eight months, with almost 9,000 children and 500 adults from Campania (the region around Naples) auditioning. Neither Del Genio nor Nasti had ever acted professionally before.

Will the My Brilliant Friend TV series be in English?

Nope. The script for the TV adaptation of the book was written entirely in the Neapolitan or Napolitano dialect the characters speak in the novels. The show will be subtitled in English, making it HBO’s first ever foreign language TV series.

“The entire series will be in Italian, in the Napolitano dialect, and it’s a very authentic portrayal of this world,” Francesca Orsi, HBO co-head of drama, told Variety. “Had we done it in English, we don’t think it would have been as honest. It wouldn’t have been as truthful an exploration of this culture.

“Speaking Italian in the Napolitano dialect is very specific and a whole other endeavour and emotional experience.”

Interestingly, the series’ creators have said that it will also be subtitled in Italy - because most Italians struggle to follow people speaking in the Neapolitan dialect.

“[We] don’t understand the Neapolitan dialect,” co-executive producer Lorenzo Mieli told Reuters. “We come from Rome, so we don’t understand at least 70% of the dialogue.”

Finding actors who could speak Neapolitan made casting even more difficult, he added. 

Gaia Girace (left) as teenage Lila and Margherita Mazzucco as teenage Elena 

Have the creators of the TV series met Elena Ferrante?

“Elena Ferrante” is a pseudonym: the author of the Neapolitan novels is famously enigmatic, and kept her true identity secret for many years. In 2016, an Italian investigative reporter claimed to have tracked down the “real” Elena Ferrante, but his exposé was widely condemned by the literary community.

My Brilliant Friend director Saverio Costanzo has said that while he and the producers emailed Ferrante through her publishers for around two and a half years about the project, they never met in person.

“I don’t know who she is… I am not curious to know, actually,” he said.

“At the end of the day, nobody cares, because this protection of identity is very important to her,” said Mieli.

When is the premiere date for My Brilliant Friend?

The first episode of the series will air on HBO in the US in November. A UK air date has not yet been announced – but given the popularity of Ferrante’s novels on these shores, it seems inevitable that a UK network will snap up the show before too long.

We’ll keep you posted.

Images: HBO 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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