“Ferrante is collaborating with us via email. We never meet her. We really don’t know who she is”


Distributor Fremantle Media International
Producers Wildside; Fandango; Umedia Production
Length 8 x 60 minutes 
Broadcasters HBO (US); Rai (Italy); Timvision (Italy) 

Pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante made international headlines two years ago when a journalist revealed her alleged identity in the New York Review Of Books.

The author of six novels, she was best known for her four-volume Neapolitan series, which began with My Brilliant Friend – a story of two young girls growing up in Naples in the 1950s.

While the author’s identity remains a contested issue in literary circles, she is helping (in a very unusual way) to adapt her books into a multi-part series for Rai, HBO and Italian OTT platform Timvision.

The producers are Fremantle Media-backed Young Pope producer Wildside and Fandango, in association with Umedia Production.

However, in what may be a first for a TV adaptation, Wildside managing director Lorenzo Mieli says the writer’s identity remains a mystery to the production team.

“She is collaborating with us, but it all happens via email,” says Mieli. “We never meet her. We really don’t know who she is.

“In our first meeting with HBO, they were shocked there was no way to have a meeting or phone call with the author. But we guaranteed them that the conversation was happening, and that she was okay with us doing the TV show.”

Don’t expect Ferrante to reveal herself at Mip or any other part of the press and marketing push for the show. “We admire her for being so courageous,” says Mieli. “She has been loyal to her choice.”

International appeal

Fandango boss Domenico Procacci picked up the rights to the books and began developing a limited series with Italian public broadcaster Rai. However, Mieli, who is friends with Procacci, was able to convince him that the project could travel well outside Italy.

The two indies – now drama power players thanks to the success of The Young Pope and Gomorrah – took the project to HBO, which was immediately interested and boarded the drama in March 2017. French broadcaster Canal+ pre-bought it in January.

“We were trying to understand what made the books so interesting for an international audience, so we spoke with screenwriters in the US and UK about why a Neapolitan story appealed to non-Italians, and how we could take the story to a much bigger audience,” says Mieli.

Despite the producers’ international ambitions, My Brilliant Friend remains authentic to its Neapolitan settings, and will be made in the region’s dialect, with English subtitles.

“We are depicting the reality of Naples in the 1950s, and the dynamics of a very poor neighbourhood,” says Mieli.

The drama will also air on Telecom Italia’s OTT service Timvision. “They are very eager to define themselves and find interesting projects for their platform, so they joined as financiers from the beginning,” says Mieli.

While the drama’s partners have only signed on for the first eight-part series, the remaining books could stretch to three more. Shooting on series two is tentatively slated to begin in February 2019.

Meanwhile, Wildside will soon go into production on The New Pope, a sequel to Sky and HBO’s The Young Pope. Elsewhere, the indie is developing a multi-part drama with Hard Sun indie Euston Films, which is also owned by Fremantle Media.

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Foreign-language drama