Currently airing on HBO, miniseries My Brilliant Friend is based on a book series from writer Elena Ferrante. The quartet, known as the Neapolitan Novels, follows two girls growing up in Naples, Italy during the 20th century. The protagonist, Elena, shares the ups and downs of her friendship with Lila over many years. There's an obvious connection to draw here from the name of the author and that of the narrator. So is My Brilliant Friend based on a true story?
The short answer is that it's impossible to know for sure. That's because Elena Ferrante is actually a pseudonym. The true identity of the woman behind the name (and it's almost certainly a woman) has been debated for many years. In 2016, one Italian reporter claimed to have unearthed the real Ferrante, a woman named Anita Raja. Raja denied her involvement, and the majority of the internet, including Ferrante's passionate fans, angrily shot back at the reporter for trying to "out" the author, protecting her right to remain anonymous.
However, she isn't entirely a mystery. What we do know is that Elena Ferrante is really from Naples. Though famously private, she does grant email interviews to the occasional media outlet. Speaking with Elissa Schappell for Vanity Fair in 2015, following the release of fourth novel in the series, the author indicates that the friendship in the book is based on a real one, though most likely not her own.
My Brilliant Friend director and writer Saverio Costanzo, who is responsible for adapting the novel for the small screen, corresponded with Ferrante for years before the project was even in development. In fact, he was chosen by the author herself to adapt My Brilliant Friend. Key to the adaptation was the characters themselves: The unreliable narrator, picking apart her childhood self, and her frenemy, who is so much more than that word can truly encapsulate, as Lenù (Elena's nickname) who simultaneously admires and admonishes Lila.
And it really is the female friendships at the core of the novels that make them so beloved. The raw, honest portrayal isn't exactly relatable for most in terms of the day to day life of these girls, but the feelings are very familiar. Jealousy, lies, betrayal, and many other strong emotions are often forgone when it comes to showcasing any friendships between women, much less those of children. Costanzo told The New York Times that Ferrante's notes included calling some of his dialogue "ridiculous," as well as insisting that he not remove a key scene from the final episode. Regardless of whether this actually happened in her life, Ferrante is passionate about how her work is interpreted.
Met with much acclaim, the first of the Neapolitan Novels was picked up by HBO for an eight-episode limited series, with the fate of the others in the series to be determined. It is airing in two-night segments on the network, with the final episode, "The Promise" airing on Monday, Dec. 10. Should Ferrante's primarily fictional story make significant waves on the network, it seems likely that it will choose to shoot the remaining three novels in a similar fashion.
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