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Novel centred on WWII Italian ‘human torpedoes’ to be turned into TV series

A novel centred on the exploits of the Italian so-called human torpedoes who targeted British shipping in Gibraltar during the early years of World War II is set to be turned into a television series.

Cattleya Producciones, a production company which forms part of ITV Studios and specialises in dramas, has purchased the rights to El Italiano (The Italian), a novel by well-known Spanish author and journalist Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

The novel recounts a fictional love affair between a librarian from La Linea and one of the Italian divers, but in doing so brings a different, human dimension to the well-documented exploits of the special unit of the Italian navy’s Decima Flotigglia MAS.

From their base in a scuttled merchant ship in Algeciras, the SS Olterra, and from properties around the bay on the Spanish coastline, the Italian divers launched attacks sitting astride torpedo-shaped submersible 'chariots' to penetrate British underwater defences and mine ships anchored in Gibraltar.

They succeeded in damaging or sinking some 14 vessels over nearly three years in the early 1940s, but paid a heavy price too. Many of them died in the attempt.

The plot of the novel centres on the relationship between Teseo Lombardo, one of the Italian divers, and Elena Arbués, a woman from La Linea who lives in Puente Mayorga and finds him one morning injured on a beach as a ship burns in the bay.

As their relationship grows, she finds herself drawn closer to him and working for the Italians against the English.

Ranked against them is a police officer in Gibraltar, Harry Campello, who leads a special unit tasked with stopping the saboteurs.

The novel, which was launched in Gibraltar in September last year, was a bestseller in 2021 and 2022 and has sold over 500,000 copies in Spain. It was recently launched in Italy too and has been on sale there since last June.

The project is headed by Arturo Díaz, Managing Director and Executive Producer of Cattleya Producciones, and Ricardo Tozzi, founder and president of Cattleya.

During his previous period at Netflix, Mr Díaz has participated as a content executive in more than 30 television series produced in Spain, the United States and Latin America, including Cable Girls and Elite, among others.

Mr Tozzi is in charge of the content area of the Italian Cattleya and has produced more than 70 films and series including Romanzo Criminale, Gomorrah, Suburra, ZeroZeroZero and Summertime.

Cattleya Producciones is already working on the international cast of actors who will bring this story's characters to life.

Screenwriter Beto Marini, creator of series including La Unidad and feature films like Sleep Tight, Retribution and Extinction, will be in charge of the novel's adaptation.

“When we read El Italiano, it was impossible not to imagine a television series,” Mr Díaz said.
“Arturo Pérez-Reverte transports us to a unique time and unique places, makes us fall in love with his characters, and both surprises and thrills us in equal measure.”

“We can feel the danger of being a combat diver, the tension of being a spy crossing a border, and above all the passion of two highly nuanced characters.”

“We want to make El Italiano an ambitious international series, worthy of an author who represents Spain all over the world.”

“`El Italiano' is a gripping adventure, love, and espionage story, set in an unconventional location, Gibraltar, a British territory that was affected by the Second World War because it was bordered by Spain, a neutral country,” Mr Tozzi added.

“Its characters are ordinary men and women who, conditioned by the times in which they lived, led extraordinary lives.”

“It is also the story of soldiers (sailors in this case) who were torn apart by internal conflicts caused by the armistice declared between Italy and the Allied Forces on September 8th, 1943.”

“Our protagonist, after that crucial date, will choose to side with the Italian Army fighting alongside the Allied Forces.”

Mr Pérez-Reverte, who trained in underwater activities at the Centro de Buceo de la Armada (Navy Diving Centre) in Cartagena in the late sixties, brings part of his experience to this story told to him by his father when he was a child.

With more than twenty million readers worldwide, translated into forty languages and with many of his works adapted for film and television, he is one of the most prominent Spanish-language authors on the literary scene.

“In those tragic, dangerous years of World War II, there were brave men and women that history left behind and has forgotten: people who did daring, seemingly impossible things that their adversaries were incapable of imagining,” he said.

“'El Italiano' is my attempt to recover and honour their memory. I'm positive that this series from Cattleya, whose productions I have always admired for their quality, will be faithful to the story I wrote.”

Mr Pérez-Reverte was a broadcast journalist and war correspondent for 21 years before becoming an author.
He is also no stranger to the Rock, having first visited in 1972 as a working journalist and then several times after that to film documentary segments in the Strait of Gibraltar on issues including migration and smuggling.

Two of his earlier books – La Reina del Sur and La Carta Esférica – are set in and around the Strait of Gibraltar, and he confessed the Rock’s multi-layered history fascinated him.

“All of Europe’s history, you have it here,” he told the Chronicle when he presented his book here last year.
“This is the world that I love because that’s where you find characters and rich material.”

Parts of ‘El Italiano’ are set in Gibraltar and draw on that experience.

Above all, what draws him back to this region time again is the fact that it is a frontier, a place where Europe and Africa are within a stone’s throw of each other, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, a place that is a rich melting pot of different cultures and peoples.

“It’s a frontier, and frontiers are interesting because things happen there, there are more interesting people, adventures,” he said, adding: “And this is a frontier par excellence.”

“The Mediterranean, the Atlantic, Africa, Spain, Gibraltar, Europe, it’s all here.”

“Frontiers are fascinating places and all my novels are always based around them.”

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