The stirring six-episode legal detective series is based on the life of Italy’s first female lawyer, Lidia Poët
Matilda De Angelis in a still from The Law According to Lidia Poët
“Good luck, Lidia! God knows, we women need luck even in matters that would normally only require common sense,” says Lidia Poët’s (Matilda De Angelis) sister-in-law Teresa Barberis (Sara Lazzaro) moments before the former’s appeal to register herself as an advocate at the Turin Bar Association was declared null and void by the court. Gritty, curious, and discerning female characters leading an impactful plot are finally rallying to the mainstream, and rightly so! Be it the story of homemaker-turned-lawyer Noyonika Sengupta (Kajol) in Disney+ Hotstar’s much-talked-about legal drama series The Trial: Pyaar Kaanoon Dhokha or Hansal Mehta’s sensational crime drama series Scoop, streaming on Netflix, where Karishma Tanna’s role is inspired by former journalist Jigna Vora, a slew of theatrical and OTT releases are now spotlighting narratives, where women are the undisputed protagonists.
Netflix’s Matilda De Angelis-starrer show The Law According to Lidia Poët (La legge di Lidia Poët), however, picked a very interesting personality from the late 1800s to drive a narrative that’s as progressive as it can get. As the title hints, the six-episode, legal detective series - created by Guido Iuculano and David Orsini - chases the extraordinary journey of Lidia Poët, who’s hailed as the first modern female Italian lawyer. It is said that women from all over the country had gathered at the court premises to support her on the day the court announced its decision on her appeal. In fact, her disbarment is counted among the primary factors that resulted in a fierce debate in 19th-century Italy - a movement to allow women to practice law and hold public office in the European nation. This is also the story of a woman who, although was inspired by her lawyer father as a little girl, couldn’t get the kind of support and guidance she desired or needed during her early days.
The binge-worthy series is a fictional take on some of the criminal cases that she handled while she was assisting her brother, Enrico Poët (Pier Luigi Pasino), an established lawyer in the city of Turin. This was after Lidia was suspended from the court even though she had a distinction in law from the University of Turin. A little clueless at that point, she started staying together with her brother, sister-in-law Teresa and niece Marianna Poët (Sinéad Thornhill). There she meets a relative, named Jacopo Barberis (Eduardo Scarpetta), who although is a journalist by profession, has a questionable past.
Nonetheless, they end up collaborating on cases that also required a lot of undercover investigation to find the real culprits behind the criminal acts. Mind you, this was a time when even the basic method of examining fingerprints from the crime scene was an alien concept. So, in a typical murder case involving an aristocrat and someone from a disadvantaged class or an anarchist, the sophisticated lawyer will inadvertently lean in favour of the former.
Amid suspensions from the court, social pushback, and criticism levelled against her, a determined Lidia pursued her passion, trying to ensure justice for those who were refused representation in the court of law. She took up cases at a meagre fee and dared to listen to both sides of the story. Besides the homicide cases, Lidia - who was still in the early years of her career - deftly handled cases of rampant gender crimes. In one of the instances, she exposed high-profile scholars who used homeless women and prostitutes as guinea pigs in a chemistry lab inside a reputed educational institution.
It’s interesting how the directors of the show - Letizia Lamartire and Matteo Rovere - carved a historical character with such nuance and relevance. Even while she flaunted pretty vintage-style corset dresses and fascinators, Lidia is portrayed as someone who had a mind of her own and was also sexually independent - a huge thing for an unmarried woman of her time. She’s painted as quite the liberated woman, who was evidently resistant to the idea of marriage. Lidia was not ashamed to learn to ride a bike on the streets or slip into the guise of a call girl to dig up a case. She may not be someone who took a keen interest in embroidery or kitchen chores, but she was definitely a woman of substance and compassion. Her exchanges with a young Marianna add an interesting edge to the plot.
For a mystery-thriller set in 1883, the makers ditched slow-paced music and instead opted for an upbeat background score and songs like I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king by Florence And The Machine to set the tone for the patriarchy-smashing tale. Even the male characters in the show - be it her brother Enrico, her complicit and love interest Jacopo and her suitor Andrea (Dario Aita), who even offered to take her to New York, where she could better invest her talent - Lidia was someone they all intently admired and were in awe of.
While gripping courtroom dramas - especially those centered on female lawyers - have gained renewed interest among Indian OTT audiences lately, a lot relies on how these characters are written, fleshed out, and portrayed on screen. Speaking of the latest, many found Kajol as Noyonika in The Trial too ‘overbearing’, something that drowned out a promising start to a series, which is an adaptation of Robert King and Michelle King’s The Good Wife. That said, people loved the character graph of Anupriya Goenka as Nikhat Hussain in the Pankaj Tripathi-starrer Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. Meanwhile, Shriya Pilgaonkar as Kashaf Quaze in Amazon Prime Video’s Guilty Minds also cuts an interesting character.
Of course, a lot depends on the demand of the narrative and the choice of plot devices based on the story, but long-format pieces also allow the time and space to explore the unspoken aspects and incredible journeys of these intrepid women, who dare to show up every day despite all odds.