Travel to 19th Century Italy in The Law According to Lidia Poët

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The Law According to Lidia Poët (or La Legge Di Lidia Poët in Italian) is a six-episode Italian crime drama and historical (with a feminist twist) series that was released on Netflix on February 15th of this year. The show is inspired by the true story of Lidia Poët (Matilda De Angelis), who was the first female lawyer in Italy, before her license was revoked by the court system due to sexism. Lidia works as her older brother Enrico’s (Pierluigi Pasino) assistant so that she can continue practicing law behind the backs of the courts, solving a new murder for every episode. Along the way, Lidia becomes more acquainted with her sister-in-law Teresa (Sara Lazzaro), her niece Marianna (Sinead Thornhill), and Teresa’s brother Jacopo (Eduardo Scarpetta). It’s recommended to watch this series in the original Italian dub with English subtitles, as it gives the viewer a better understanding of the emotions that the characters convey.

The series begins in Turin, Italy on November 3rd, 1883. A ballet dancer named Adele D’Angennes is found dead, the man that was stalking her is accused and subsequently arrested. Shortly after, Lidia and her charming merchant lover Andrea Caracciolo (Dario Aita) are interrupted by Lidia’s landlady and the suspect’s mother. Lidia sends Andrea out through her window since she’s “not allowed guests” and answers the door. The suspect’s mother asks Lidia for help in clearing his name because she “doesn’t charge as much as a male lawyer for her services.” Lidia takes the case, and while waiting to present her initial findings to the judge, the audience is introduced to another lawyer named Enrico. The reveal that they’re actually siblings happens in this hilarious scene:

Enrico: When I saw you were in the Order, I didn’t want to believe it. The world is changing fast.

Lidia: I’ve been qualified for three months now. I have an important case now.

Enrico: What to say? Fata volentes ducunt (‘Fate leads the willing’ in Latin).

Lidia: The D’Angennes murder.

Enrico: Ah. Nothing better than starting your career with a disaster. The prosecutor will destroy you.

Lidia: Okay, Enrico. Thank you, I’ve missed you too. Send my regards to your wife and daughter if they haven’t killed themselves yet.

Enrico: Anyway, if you need help, ask. You’re still part of the Poët family. We don’t want to look bad.

While working the D’Angennes murder, Lidia is disbarred from practicing law, laughed at and mocked by the men in the courts when her license is revoked. Women in Italy had little rights and women becoming involved in the courts was seen as disgraceful by some. As a result, Lidia is evicted from her apartment and seeks out help from Enrico, who lets her stay with him and his family while she works to appeal the court’s decision and reinstate her license. After Lidia moves in, the audience meets her sister-in-law Teresa, her niece Marianna, and Teresa’s brother Jacopo Barberis, a journalist for the Piedmont Gazette. One of the best parts about this show is the supporting characters’ distinct personalities and relationships with Lidia, particularly Enrico and Jacopo.

Image Source: Netflix, The Chill Views
Pictured: Enrico and Lidia

Lidia and Enrico have a very realistic and heartfelt brother-sister relationship, they pick on one another and laugh at the expense of their sibling, but they care for each other very much. Enrico is ornery, and very hard-headed, but he ends up becoming a much better older brother and supporter to Lidia as the series progresses. When it comes to being a lawyer, Enrico has no discernment, can’t properly investigate a crime scene like Lidia, and isn’t as passionate as she is. He relies upon his sister and her talents in practicing law, while Lidia relies upon Enrico’s higher role in society as a man. He protests to representing the clients that Lidia encounters for various reasons, mostly as not to besmirch his own reputation. Lidia is confident and doesn’t concern herself with what others think about her, such as when she notices that a secretary has the same hangover remedy on his desk that Jacopo uses, and drinks it in front of the secretary and Enrico to make sure it was the same one. While Enrico isn’t as proficient a lawyer as Lidia, he does challenge her to further investigate the cases that they have throughout the show.

Lidia and Jacopo make a dynamic duo of two people both in search of the truth, as Lidia is a lawyer and Jacopo is a journalist. Jacopo becomes Lidia’s accomplice and helps her break into places relevant to the cases and dig for clues. Jacopo helps Lidia gain access to places since he’s a journalist, and although everyone knows about Lidia and her revoked license from the newspapers, there were no photographs of her circulating. He has his own secrets, though, as he’s haunted by a past love, which interferes with the growing chemistry between him and Lidia. 

Jacopo’s sister Teresa upholds traditional values for women, telling Lidia that, “If God wanted you to be a lawyer, he wouldn’t have made you a woman.” She puts pressure on her daughter to have a successful debut into society, and acts as a helicopter parent, going to great lengths to “protect” Marianna. Teresa sees Lidia as odd because she doesn’t fit her mold of what a woman should be, such as when she watches Lidia ride a bike in bewilderment while she herself is doing flower arranging. Teresa and Enrico’s daughter, Marianna, is a naive and young woman. Marianna and Lidia have a close relationship, and Marianna feels comfortable confiding in her “Auntie”, while Lidia helps Marianna gain some semblance of freedom in the restrictive society they live in. 

Image Source: Netflix, Vague Visages
Pictured (from left to right): Jacopo, Lidia, and Enrico

This series is a great feminist show that tackles the struggles of being a woman in 1880’s Italy, where women did not have many opportunities. Lidia deals with a lot of sexism and misogyny, and people underestimate her for being a young woman. Forensic science wasn’t very good or developed back then, either. Lidia suggests checking for fingerprints in one murder scene, which was a groundbreaking forensic discovery at the time, but her idea is quickly discarded. Lidia carves her own path, refusing to conform to society’s expectations of a woman. She is passionate about her pursuit of the truth, and willingly puts herself in many dangerous situations to obtain it. 

She’s headstrong and fiercely independent, not tying herself down to a man, which was the expectation of women back then. Lidia’s parents tried to force her into an arranged marriage with her childhood friend Alberto, but she refuses, telling her mother that she “wants to decide her own fate”, she doesn’t “want to thank a man for it.” She doesn’t care about Andrea’s expensive gifts to her, and easily pawns a vase he sends to her that once belonged to Suleiman the Magnificent’s favorite court lady for a bicycle of her own. Lidia is very clever and cunning, and always seems to know what to say or do to dig deeper into a case when she faces obstacles. Lidia has an amazing ability to cross-examine suspects. She lies, trespasses, and puts herself in dangerous, life-threatening situations. Her clients always hold back on the complete truth, which leads to Lidia investigating to prove their innocence. It’s a good mystery because at first, you’re not completely sure who the actual culprit is and you get to put the pieces together with Lidia every episode. 

The costuming is not very historically accurate, but it’s visually striking nonetheless. Lidia has the most beautiful outfits that compliment her very well. With brightly colored costumes in rich hues, Lidia always stands out amongst a crowd due to her vibrant outfits and the meticulous detail given to her updos and bug-themed accessories. Lidia wears rich reds, blues, and purples. Clothing in this show is very significant, with Lidia in one scene making own pair of pants to be able to ride a bike more easily, which was unheard of for a woman to be wearing in that time period. 

There are many mature themes in this show, ranging from murder, sex/sex workers, drug use/addiction, and misogyny. This show is gritty and dark, with some difficult subject matter, lots of violence, dead bodies, and explicit scenes. Rated TV-MA, the show doesn’t shy away from showing dead bodies, or nudity. 

Image Source: Netflix, Netflixwoche
Pictured: Lidia and Andrea

Though many of the scenes portrayed in the series are fictional, the actual historical figure of Lidia Poët and her disbarment from practicing law are the basis for the main plot. The real Lidia Poët lived to be 93-years-old and was known as “the first modern female Italian lawyer.” Her disbarment led to a women’s movement to allow them to practice law and hold public office in Italy. Lidia worked in her brother’s law office and despite being unable to sign letters or plead in court, did the work of an advocate. She even took over her brother’s practice entirely when he departed for Vichy each year and “sought out male colleagues to plead in court on behalf of her clients.” On July 17th, 1919, Under Law n. 1176, women were allowed to hold certain public offices. In 1920, a 65-year-old Lidia Poët was enlisted in the record of the members of the Council of lawyers and officially recognized as a lawyer, when finally inscribed in the roll of advocates in Turin. For the rest of her life, Poët was active in the international women’s movement. There is an assumption that although the real Lidia Poët never married or had kids, she had romantic relationships, but nothing was ever confirmed, so the romantic relationships that Lidia has in the show are entirely fictional.

As Lidia writes in her appeal to the court, “If justice itself denies a woman what it naturally grants men, how can we call it justice?”

All six episodes of season one of The Law According to Lidia Poët are available to watch now on Netflix.