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 – a figure that’s only set to increase with the arrival of a new blockbuster TV adaptation.

The success of the Neapolitan novels is in no small part down to Ferrante’s ability to explore the subtle grievances and joys of female friendship, as well as the violence and repression experienced by women who attempted to defy convention in the mid-20th century. The books are also notable for their evocative depiction of a very specific 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. And while fans had justifiable concerns about their beloved books being adapted for the screen, early signs suggest the show will do Ferrante’s words justice.

Here’s everything 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 

When is My Brilliant Friend coming to TV in the UK?

The eight-episode series will start airing in the UK on Sky Atlantic on 19 November 2018 – the same day as in Italy, and one day after it is broadcast on HBO in the US.

The exact air time has yet to be confirmed, but we’ll update this post as soon as we know. 

What is the series about?

It’s based on My Brilliant Friend, the 2012 novel that kicked off Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan series. Set in Naples in the Fifties, the series follows Elena, a bright working-class girl whose educational aspirations are threatened by her family’s poverty.

As in the novel, the HBO/Sky Atlantic series will show 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.

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

Did Elena Ferrante write the script for the TV adaptation of My Brilliant Friend?

The mysterious Italian author didn’t write the script in its entirety, but she does have a screenplay credit. The series’ director, Saverio Costanzo, has said that the show’s narrative structure is “much more classic” than the complex retrospective structure of Ferrante’s novel. As a result, his writing team would send Ferrante drafts of their scripts, and she would send back notes.

Ferrante’s “input is everywhere” in the series, Costanzo told Variety in September. “She was our compass. The book is a lot more complex than one might think as a canvas in terms of the web of relationships and narrative strands, so her guidance was crucial.”

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.

My Brilliant Friend stars Margherita Mazzucco, Elisa Del Genio, Gaia Girace and Ludovica Nasti with series director Saverio Costanzo at this year’s Venice Film Festival

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. 

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are international bestsellers 

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 and Ferrante’s fans.

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.

Is there a trailer for the TV adaptation of My Brilliant Friend?

The first teaser trailer for the show dropped on 30 August. Watch it below – and prepare to get excited for 19 November. 

This article was first published on 31 August 2018 and has been updated with new information.

Images: HBO / Getty Images


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.