It’s hard to remember a time when telephones were all attached to landlines, fixed, immobile and generally located within ear’s reach of your parents. It’s even harder to remember a time before telephones, when the idea of talking to someone in another house, city or even a country over a wire was something akin to science fiction. That’s the turning point that Netflix dives into with Las Chicas del Cable, its first Spanish original series – and it’s a line that will quickly have you hooked.
The streaming giant has increasingly commissioned original content from different countries, as it seeks to establish its global presence by producing shows that will cater to target audiences. While not all of them (hello to Marseille) are successful, Las Chicas del Cable succeeds, in part, just through its choice of subject: taking us back to 1920s Madrid, the programme is perfectly balanced between the past and present. That history is unmistakebly Spanish, as we head to the capital’s buzzing centre with four hopeful girls looking to get a job with the exciting new telephone company. But the show simultaneously dials into a strive for modernity – and gender equality – that feels enjoyably universal.
Our main quartet are, as you’d expect, from very different backgrounds. There’s Marga (Nadia de Santiago), a naive young woman from a rural village who looks at the bright lights of the city with wide-eyed amazement. There’s Angeles (Maggie Civantos), the confident, experienced supervisor of the operators. There’s Carlota (Ana Fernandez), the rich daughter of a wealthy family. And there’s Lidia (Blanca Saurez), our main character, who flees to Madrid after a dramatic opening that sees her effectively on the run.
Uniting them all is a shared sense that they’re all escaping something: Carlota wants to get out from the thumbs of her well-off parents. Marga wants to break free into new opportunities. Maggie Civantos, fresh from a superb lead turn in Vis a Vis (Locked Up – available on Walter Presents), is brilliant as Angeles, delivering a turn that reverses her violent, sensual presence in the prison drama and doubles down on the reserved nature of a submissive housewife. Blanca Suarez, meanwhile, shines as the woman with the smarts and wiles to get ahead in a man’s world, tough as nails after a past that has hardened her shell and sharpened her wits.
There are romantic flings teased, both with old flames and new suitors – watch out for the suave Martiño Rivas as the son of the telephone company’s director, who is as groomed as he is covered in privilege – but there’s a focus primarily on the friendship between these four girls, who, even in the opening episode, make it clear that they will share a supportive bond, even as the professional stakes reach across international borders.
Their separate decisions to become call operators – a rare job available to women without them being domestic trophies – dovetails simply, yet no less elegantly, with the historical context, resulting in a light, frothy series that, wears its broad feminist message with all the style you’d expect from the glossy pages of the past. The initial plotting may feel very familiar, but the corridors of the gorgeous set and the costumes all glow with the optimism of the future, and the easily-consumed narrative swiftly connects you with a cliffhanger that will pull you forwards into the next chapter. If you’re a fan of Mad Men, Populaire or Grand Hotel, you’ll be calling up your mates to join you.
All episodes of Las Chicas del Cable are available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.