So Long, Marianne Presents a New Look at an Infamous Life

Leonard Cohen made a name for himself as a singer-songwriter, poet and novelist, but it is his legendary love story with Marianne Ihlen that takes center stage in So Long, Marianne. The drama series, named for the eponymous song penned by Cohen, has already been sold into a slew of markets by Cineflix Rights, which is highlighting the project at the London TV Screenings. It is also the first Canadian drama to be presented in Series Mania’s International Competition category.

“It started all the way back in 2018 when I heard a radio documentary on NRK about the relationship between Marianne and Leonard,” recalls Ingeborg Klyve, executive producer for Redpoint Productions. “I mentioned the beautiful love story to writer and director Øystein Karlsen, and he was keen on trying to adapt the story, so we went to NRK and got the first stage of development. Then came a year of reading books, talking to relatives and people who had lived on Hydra at that time, watching documentaries and reading old newspapers.”

Eventually, the team started talking to Tony Wood, CEO of Buccaneer Media, who joined the project, and Cineflix Rights came on as the exclusive distribution partner. “We did four drafts of the script, and we got Jo Nesbø on board to write the last two episodes, and in the final stage of writing, Tony, Øystein and I did the adjustments about a month prior to starting principal photography,” Klyve explains. “So, it was a long process.”

For Cineflix, the decision to come on board was an easy one, according to Tom Misselbrook, senior VP of scripted sales and development at Cineflix Rights. “From the incredible true story itself, coupled with the world-class creative team in Øystein Karlsen and Jo Nesbø and our brilliant producing partners Redpoint Productions, Buccaneer and C3 Media and their ambitions for the series, it had all the elements of what we look for in a project, and we’re incredibly proud of how this has all come together. It’s truly a unique and standout piece of television, and it makes for an excellent addition to our ever-expanding and exciting scripted slate.”

The love story of Cohen and Marianne crosses the world, from Norway to Greece, New York and Montreal, with the majority of the series filmed on the picturesque Greek island of Hydra, where they lived during the 1960s.

While Cohen’s work is well-known, the details of his life on Hydra before he became a singer-songwriter, poet and novelist are probably less so. Klyve believes people will be surprised to learn through the series that “he was dead broke—as were most of the expats on the island—that his first two books sold about 400 copies each, how he met Marianne, that he went to Norway and, surprisingly, that he was so afraid to perform, but despite his anxiety, he pressed himself to go on stage and eventually became the icon he ended up being—and still is.”

The series delves into the idea of how important it is to never give up on your dream, as well as how important it is to trust your talent and be honest with yourself. It also drives home that, at the end of the day, each and every one of us is responsible for our own decisions. “Also, one of the best things about the story is that it shows it’s okay to not be perfect,” says Klyve. “There is nothing perfect about humanity. There isn’t an Instagram version of life that is real. We all get up in the morning and do our best, but every single person you see online or pass on the streets has problems just like me and you.”

Led by showrunner Karlsen, So Long, Marianne tells one of the most epic love stories of the 20th century, “something that ultimately influenced and shaped the career of one of the most revered musicians of all time—so there is naturally a lot of intrigue and excitement around this series already,” says Misselbrook.

The cast is also a draw, counting Alex Wolff (OppenheimerA Quiet Place: Day One) as Cohen and Thea Sofie Loch Næss (The Last Kingdom) opposite him as Marianne, as well as standout turns from Anna Torv (The Last of UsThe Newsreader) and Noah Taylor (FoundationPeaky Blinders).

A number of premium broadcasters are already on board, including NRK in Norway, Bell Media’s Crave in Canada, ITV in the U.K., NDR in Germany and Cosmote TV in Greece. This sales roster is “a testament to the strength of the series, so we’re looking forward to taking this out to the wider market soon and have high ambitions for the series,” Misselbrook adds.