HBO goes the foreign language route with ‘My Brilliant Friend’

HBO is at the forefront of the “peak TV” revolution—from The Sopranos and The Wire to Game of Thrones and Westworld, the US premium cable network has produced high-quality content for two decades.

HBO goes the foreign language route with ‘My Brilliant Friend’
HBO launches its newest books-to-TV-adaptation of 'My Brilliant Friend,' based on the ridiculously popular novels by Elena Ferrante.
On Sunday, it is breaking new ground with its first non-English series, My Brilliant Friend, an Italian-language adaptation of a wildly popular series of novels by Elena Ferrante.

The much-anticipated premiere is evidence of the globalization of television in the internet era, with audiences no longer primarily concentrated in America.

Fans of the books—Ferrante is a pseudonym and the true identity of the author is unknown—are champing at the bit to see the series.

More than 10 million readers have fallen in love with the novels—the tale of a life-long friendship between Elena and Lila, who first meet in Naples in the 1950s—since the first one was published in 2011.

The broadcast rights for the eight-episode HBO series were sold in 56 countries. It will air in Italy on public broadcaster RAI from Nov. 27 and on Canal Plus in France in December.

Even in the United States, where books translated into English barely represent one percent of the market, the four Neapolitan Novels have been big business, with 2.6 million copies sold, according to publishing house Europa Editions.

But the leap to the small screen is still a risky one for HBO, which is collaborating with RAI on the series, which was filmed in Italy by Italian director Saverio Costanzo.

The dialogue is actually in the thick Neapolitan dialect, and not pure Italian, so even RAI will show the series with subtitles.

“That really struck me,” Costanzo told The Hollywood Reporter.

“I asked why an American network should care about the accuracy of a language if their audiences would be watching the series with subtitles. They replied that they wanted the series to be authentic,” he added.

“There, in that moment I understood why HBO is HBO.” 

Topics: HBO , The Sopranos , The Wire to Game of Thrones , Westworld , My Brilliant Friend
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