The Law According to Lidia Poët
Guido Iuculano and Davide Orsini
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows with a lot of dialog
Mysteries or whodunnits
Years ago – yes, I refuse to be specific for fear of dating myself – my husband and I fell in love with a movie called Dangerous Liaisons. It was a period piece starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer centering around a torrid love affair. Other than the film Amadeus, I didn’t fancy period pieces, but only because I didn’t give them a try. Most were dramas set in Europe that focused on privileged people, and yes, I mean the past and present definitions of the term. They were not just high earners, but to use a Marxist phrase, they owned the means of production. In other words, they were elites. Some of the actors were from the U.S., but most of the characters they played spoke with an accent of one of the European countries – back then and I suppose even now, often viewed as a cue of high social class. Think Titanic. For the films I did watch, which included all of the above and then some, I enjoyed them thoroughly, and I learned that they had something to offer in teaching us how people of this stature live, socialize, celebrate, control, and even handle adversity. And The Law According to Lidia Poët is equally valuable and honestly, a lot more fun than its predecessors.
Set in Northern Italy in about 1883, the Netflix miniseries starring Matilda De Angelis (Rose Island, The Undoing) is about a young single woman who recently graduated from law school and despite passing the Bar, will not be admitted to it because – anybody? anybody? – she’s a woman. Based on a true story, the six-episode series is not preoccupied with the sexism of the day, but rather a demonstration of Lidia’s perseverance, guile, and legal talent.
The mention of Northern Italy is pertinent here as until about 1860, Italy was divided into northern and southern states. Predominantly poor families, many of whom were farmers, resided in the South while upper-class elites inhabited the North. Little changed after reunification, so many people in the southern part of the country began immigrating to the United States for economic opportunity and political freedom, as the country was run by elites in the North. While we don’t get a sense of the politics in the series, the context is nonetheless important. Despite Lidia being from the North and born into wealth, she has little means, at one point even asking her brother for money. Yet her dress, make-up, and speech emanate upper-class status, which together speaks to the degree we are socialized to class and how hard some must work to maintain it, even if it means conspicuously consuming the clothing and accouterments of class to do so.
After being evicted from her place for non-payment, Lydia is forced to move in with her well-to-do brother, Enrico Poët, who is also a solicitor. There is still some resentment between Lidia and Enrico because – anybody? anybody? – yes, she went to law school instead of getting married as women should do. To be fair, this would all be funny if not for the fact that the story is based on actual events and that still today, more than a century later across oceans and into other lands, such beliefs are still strongly held, especially in upper-class elite families.
Even though she has not been admitted to the Bar, Lidia is approached with cases. In little time, she drags the reluctant Enrico, played by Pier Luigi Pasino (Sargno farfalle quantiche), into them since she is not allowed to argue in court. What comes through strongly as the series progresses, though, is that Enrico loves his sister, making even their spats and strong disagreements not virulent but more a test of wills. At many points during their debates, Enrico gives up on cases, insisting that they cannot be won or the accused person is guilty. Lidia keeps going with “That’s not possible if …” or “Not if we can prove …” These interactions add a level of warmth to the series and an important element for ensuring the audience does not generalize the Bar association’s stance regarding a “woman’s place” as reflective of the views of all men even at that time. Soon, Enrico recognizes Lidia’s talents, realizes her value, and offers to help in handling her appeal to the Bar.
It is in Lidia’s investigation and research of cases, along with advice to Enrico on ways to present them, that we get the opportunity to see her kick some a**. This aspect of the series reminds me of the times when Black athletes were not allowed to compete in sports at many major colleges in the U.S. I’m thinking of the 2006 film, Glory Road set in 1966, where it was revealed that schools such as the University of Kentucky and others, did not allow Blacks on their basketball teams. Certainly, the college landscape has changed now, but I remember thinking as I watched that film: Why? What were they afraid of? I had these same questions as I watched The Law According to Lidia Poët. My thoughts are that barriers like these can only be erected out of tradition and/or the fear of losing identity and status. If I’m right, it makes you wonder about the capitalist tenet of competition and the class value of meritocracy. Where do they fit given the intentional construction of barriers like these?
In addition to observing Lidia’s investigative and legal prowess, we get to voyeuristically enjoy her romantic exploits, which allow us to see her as fun, fun-loving and three-dimensional. It helps that her lovers are smart, engaging, and witty. Together, the vestiges of upper-class status, occupational prestige, and staunch independence are worn well by Lidia Poët, making the series informative and entertaining. If you want to dip your toe into a 6-episode period piece that is more upbeat than down, you might want to give this one a try.