HBO had a unique challenge ahead of itself when it greenlit an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels in March of 2017. The four-book series follows the relationship between two women, Lenù and Lila, growing up in Naples, Italy in the second half of the 20th century. It garnered a cult following thanks to Ferrante’s incisive, deeply intimate—and brutally honest—depiction of the girls’ friendship and experiences as women at a time of society-shaking change. How could a show capture the deeply literate, intangible emotion of Ferrante’s words onscreen?
HBO and its production partner, Italian broadcaster Rai, assembled a team of top talent to authentically translate 1950s Naples to film. Now, the promising first look at their efforts has arrived with the teaser trailer for the first season of the show, based on the series’ first installment, My Brilliant Friend. The book takes place during Lenù and Lila’s childhood and teenage years, and the trailer’s opening moments depict seminal scenes from early chapters, including the familial disputes over whether the girls will continue their education, and a seemingly innocent moment of discarding their dolls that has unexpected consequences. “What you do, I do,” Lenù tells Lila.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, $12. Buy Now
The show appears to retain Ferrante’s voice through Lenù’s voiceovers; she describes her fascination with her friend, a driving force in the series, in the trailer: “I was convinced nothing could stop her. Her disobedience always led to something wondrously breathtaking.”
The eight-episode adaptation of My Brilliant Friend will premiere on HBO in November. Four girls have been cast in the lead roles: Elisa Del Genio and Margherita Mazzucco will play Lenù as a child and teenager, respectively, and Ludovica Nasti and Ludovica Nasti will do the same for Lila. HBO and Rai are committed to depicting Ferrante’s real Naples—filthy, violent, and oppressive—all the way down to its particular dialect. “One of the key things Ferrante does beautifully in her book is to use dialect to separate out class and education,” executive producer Jennifer Schuur said in July. “That was a big challenge, to try and create nuance for the worldwide audience. I think Italian speakers will grasp that nuance easily, but the challenge was… trying to translate that into English language.”
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