The remarkable success of My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend is a resounding international success both as a book and as a TV series. Let’s discover something about the protagonists

We will probably have to wait until next spring to watch the third season of My Brilliant Friend – Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, HBO is broadcasting the last episodes of the second season, based on Elena Ferrante’s novel The Story of a New Name.

Two brilliant friends

Pisa, Campo dei Miracoli
In the second part of the series, Elena leaves Naples to attend the prestigious Scuola Normale in Pisa

The huge success of the TV series follows that of the Neapolitan Novels, which tell the complex lifelong friendship between two women in a city that changes with them. The theme and the way with which it is dealt play a huge part in their fortune. Male friendship and loyalty is a traditional topic in literature (think about Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad, for example) that, over the centuries, has been thoroughly explored in all its aspects. What we find in Ferrante’s tetralogy, on the contrary, is the non-idealized story of two girls grown up in a poor neighborhood of post-war Naples, where Elena (Lenù) and Raffaella (Lila) fight to find their place in a man’s world from a very young age. Just as in real life, their relationship is far from being unidimensional: it is very complex, highlighted by mutual understanding, affection and admiration as well as rivalry and jealousy. We could even say the two friends are two sides of the same coin: while Lila envies Lenù for what she has, particularly for the possibility of studying and leaving the neighborhood, Lenù envies Lila for what she is – gifted, beautiful, bold, always the first in anything she does. After all, despite their insecurities, they are both brilliant in their own way and encourage each other to push past their limits.

Four brilliant young actresses

The beautiful island of Ischia is a recurring location in the first two chapters of My Brilliant Friend

In order to bring to the screen the authentic relationship between two friends and the vivid descriptions of Naples offered by Ferrante’s books, linguistic authenticity and naturalness were paramount. For this reason, director Saverio Costanzo auditioned thousands of children from Naples, most of whom had little or no previous training.

Elisa Del Genio (younger Elena) was absent from school on audition day and Costanzo chose her when she accompanied her older brother to his audition. Thanks to her typically Nordic features given by her Norwegian origins, she was simply perfect for the part. Despite her very young age, Ludovica Nasti (younger Lila) is a brave little woman who shares the same determination as her character: after years of chemotherapy that left her bald, she immediately accepted to have her – by then, long – hair cut when the producers asked her to do so. Also, Gaia Girace (teenage Lila)  knows exactly what she wants and how to obtain it; unlike  Margherita Mazzucco (teenage Elena), who had never dreamed of becoming an actress before her audition, Gaia wanted to be Lila from the very beginning. The two girls seem to share some traits with their characters: while Margherita is a great observer and devoured all the books after her first audition, Gaia is more spontaneous and decided to read them one by one to avoid being influenced by the evolution of the plot.

Gaia and Margherita will be back for the first episodes of the third season, before being replaced by older colleagues, in line with the growth of their characters. Will Elena’s role be played by Alba Rohrwacher, the narrating voice of the first two seasons?

girl reading a book
Have you already read all the books like Margherita? Or are you a fan of the TV series?

You may take advantage of this particular moment to start reading the novels in Italian, where the Neapolitan dialect is far less used than in the TV adaptation. Otherwise, if you don’t feel that confident yet, you are welcome to join one of our courses and improve your Italian with ScuolaScuola!

This summer we are offering a specific program centered around Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels making references to abstracts of the books and passages of the TV series. Click here to learn more about it.

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