Renegade Nell

Renegade Nell
Renegade Nell
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Right on the heels of The Completely Made-Up Adventures Of Dick Turpin and Mary & George, a trend that has been about fast-and-loose-with-the-truth historical fiction, comes Renegade Nell: an eight episode period-comedy-come-swashbuckling-fantasy Disney+ show from BAFTA award winning writer/executive producer Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley, Gentleman Jack) and director Ben Taylor (Sex Education). This is a refreshingly unique take on the period romp—with a different direction for Wainwright— with a dandy dose of magic, comedy and adventure.

This is an ambitious show that weaves together elements of intriguing politicking, thrilling highway action and hints of folklore and fairy-tale magic. In this case our lead is Nell Jackson (Louisa Harland): criminal, outlaw, hero who accidentally turns out to be the most infamous and wanted highway(wo)man in 18th-century England. What follows can only be best described as Doctor Who-esque adventure where Nell embarks on her quest for justice along with her gang replete with compelling cat-and-mouse narrative and David-and-Goliath dynamics.

Wainwright also cleverly explores timely themes such as class war and gender politics underneath the highway hi-jinks as Nell tries to rise above her circumstances against the villainously wicked—and unapologetically unaccountable—rich gentry. Additionally, Wainwright does not shy away from addressing difficult historical issues like slavery through Enyi Okoronkwo’s adorable-former-slave-turned-gang-member Rasselas—who has a complicated relationship with childhood friend but later turns into his secret enemy Sofia Wilmot (Alice Kremelberg).

There’s a lot here tonally it’s not always clear who the show is really aimed at; sometimes it’s dark mature violent young adult show treading around adult drama. On the other hand, the fantasy elements seem targeted more towards a family-friendly audience.

But Harland shines through as the brave little hero who can change direction from being a blunderbuss-wielding highwaywoman to an undercover high society Agent, and from cockney to Received Pronunciation or even slipping into a Scottish accent without even looking at it. The charismatic Derry Girls star is more than up to the task of stepping into Sally Wainwright’s shoes, lending real wit and bravado to this rebel who defies conventions. Alongside her comes an excellent supporting cast made up of some outstanding British talent such as Adrian Lester who plays fantastically evil Earl of Poynton while Joely Richardson delivers brilliantly as Lady Eularia Moggerhanger in a hilariously hoity-toity turn.

The creative team do well in bringing their version of the 18th century alive, capturing the opulence and excess with lavish production values and impressive period costumes (which are almost on Bridgerton scale for a big-wig budget). Renegade Nell has plenty of superpowered action scenes with thrilling shoot-outs and breathtakingly choreographed hand-to-hand fight sequences that pack a punch.

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