‘Renegade Nell’ series review: Louisa Harland’s performance propels this historical fantasy adventure

‘Renegade Nell’ is almost pitch perfect in its appetite for adventure that buoys a fun watching experience

Published - April 01, 2024 06:17 pm IST

A still from ‘Renegade Nell’.

A still from ‘Renegade Nell’. | Photo Credit: Disney Plus/YouTube

Sally Wainwright seems to be carving out a niche for herself. It’s a short list, with a 2016 television film To Walk Invisible, and a two-season 2019 drama Gentleman Jack. Both period dramas helmed by a cast of impressive women, Wainwright’s talent appears to be not only in fronting these characters but also putting them in traditionally period-drama settings that are refreshing while retaining a sense of whimsy and escapist adventure. Her latest venture with Renegade Nell takes a new turn by adding supernatural elements but retains the charm of a new-age period drama.

Set in 18th-century England, the show follows Nelly Jackson (Louisa Harland), a young widowed woman who gets caught up in a highway robbery while returning to her home. Empowered by a surprise mystical force, Nelly (or Nell, as she calls herself) takes on the bandits in no time. Over the next few days, she refuses to stand down against oppressive individuals, and she finds herself strengthened just enough to fend off those troubling her. It happens always just in the nick of time — when the bullet has been fired and when the punch is just about to land, Nell gains a surge of energy that makes her an indefeasible force. It appears almost like magic and later turns out to be so. Ted Lasso’s Nick Mohammed plays Billy Blind – a non-corporeal spirit-like entity that enables this power within Nell.

Renegade Nell (English)
Creator: Sally Wainwright
Cast: Louisa Harland, Joely Richardson, Adrian Lester, Nick Mohammed, Bo Bragason, Enyi Okoronkwo, Florence Keen, Frank Dillane, Alice Kremelberg, and others
Episodes: 8
Runtime: 45-50 minutes
Storyline: In 18th-century England, the widowed daughter of a tavern owner finds herself endowed with supernatural strength. She must decide how to use it as a plot ensues to overthrow England’s queen.

Wainwright, inspiring several elements of this story from English folk tales and ballads, doesn’t elaborate too much on Billy’s purpose or why he is aiding Nell. In fact, she doesn’t make this clear to Billy himself as both he and Nell spend time wondering how to utilise this power. While such speculative choices may benefit another plot, in this one, it ends up feeling awkward.

After Nell’s father is found dead, she is accused of murdering the local magistrate and finds herself on the run from the law. Accompanied by her two little sisters Roxy (Bo Bragason) and George (Florence Keen), and another highway robber Charles (Frank Dillane), Nell is pulled deeper into the machinations of the state as the magistrate’s daughter Sofia (Alice Kremelberg) attempts to hunt her down. All of this unfolds in eight episodes. A murder conspiracy in and of itself provides plenty of plot, and once you add magic to it you may become too much to execute in the time frame. Whereas a film would have been crisper, and more episodes would have allowed more world-building, at present Renegade Nell’s vagueness gives way to an oversimplification.

But thankfully, that doesn’t take away too much from the show’s adventurous core, which is so brilliantly embodied by Derry Girls’ Louisa Harland. Catching bullets mid-air and slaying folklore villains, Harland as Nell gives at once a performance of someone with the confidence of being virtually undefeated, while also underlining this with vulnerability who is still figuring out her purpose.

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Perhaps a second season will help solidify the foundations of the show. For now, Renegade Nell is almost pitch-perfect in its appetite for adventure that buoys a fun-watching experience.

Renegade Nell is available for streaming on Disney+Hotstar

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