Renegade Nell: a new series from Sally Wainwright

Louisa Harland in Renegade Nell

Renegade Nell burst forth with a little bit of a whole lot of things. There are murder accusations, magic sprites, evil dark arts, musical numbers, highway robbery, and political drama wrapped up in the story of Nell Jackson and her exploits in 1705 England. The series was created by Sally Wainwright of Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley fame. Wainwright also wrote 5 of the 8 episodes.

Louisa Harland, Bo Bragason, and Florence Keen in Renegade Nell
Nell and her sisters

Nell Jackson (Louisa Harland) returns home to her family’s pub. She’s a widow. Her family thought she was killed in battle like her husband. She’s wearing a man’s uniform and is often mistaken for a man. Her family is thrilled to see her still alive.

Nick Mohammed in Renegade Nell

On her way home, she was involved in a fight on the highway. A tiny sprite flew into her mouth and gave her supernatural powers. She could toss men aside, grab bullets in mid flight, and generally kick butt. The sprite, a sort of Tinker Bell, was Billy Blind (Nick Mohammed). He didn’t know why he was there to help her and neither did she. They eventually figured out they were meant to save the queen together but a lot happened before that.

Nell’s supernatural exploits spread throughout England like a viral meme. Everything was a lie – mostly – and she was a convenient person to blame for anything that happened.

Alice Kremelberg in Renegade Nell
Sofia wants to blame everything on Nell

A man named Poynton (Adrian Lester) was the queen’s advisor. He was a practitioner of the dark arts. He was mentor to Thomas (Jake Dunn) and his sister Sofia (Alice Kremelberg). When Thomas killed their father, the two of them blamed it on Nell Jackson, who had been in the room at the time. Nell was there because Thomas had killed her own father the day before.

Nell took her two sisters, Roxy (Bo Bragason) and George (Florence Keen), on the road to escape the murder charge. They got by robbing rich dolts on the highways. Each of her activities increased the crazy viral lies going round about her. Along the way they picked up Rasselas (Enyi Okoronkwo), formerly owned by Thomas and Sofia’s father. They picked up Charles Devereux (Frank Dillane), who was an actual highwayman by trade.

Meanwhile Poynton and his two minions were plotting against Queen Anne (Jodhi May). They wanted to launch an invasion and bring in their own Jacobite king. Queen Anne ruled at a time when there was a battle for power between authoritarian rulers and democratic rulers. Sounds pretty modern, doesn’t it?

A bit of trivia, Sally Wainwright has earned top spot among my favorite writers for television. She has a tendency to hire the same actors over and over again. But Jodhi May, who played Queen Anne here, is the only person I spotted in the cast who has worked with her before. Renegade Nell is much younger than her usual lead character, which meant she had to find new actors to give her juicy women-powered roles to.

Louisa Harland was a good choice for Nell. She handled the action scenes, the cross dressing, the big fat kiss from Polly Honeycombe (Ashna Rabheru), the conversations with a winged sprite and all the rest of it well.

Joely Richardson and Frank Dillane in Renegade Nell
Charles Devereux talks to Lady Eularia Moggerhanger

Lady Eularia Moggerhanger (Joely Richardson) ran a “news sheet” which printed all the lies about Nell Jackson as a way to increase sales. Another tactic that sounds completely modern, doesn’t it? Lady Moggerhanger’s wardrobe was the best of everyone in the cast. It was reportedly modeled on Lady Gaga’s famous outfits.

There was the tiniest bit of romance between Nell’s sister Roxy and Rasselas. There was cross dressing. And there was a kiss between two women. All of which adds up to a lot of ultra conservative complaints about wokeness, which I think anyone with an IQ above 13 can ignore.

This wasn’t my favorite Sally Wainwright series. I loved the episode where they broke into the prison and the one where they broke into the newspaper office. I was a little stunned by the singing and dancing in the street. The secret staircase into Poynton’s evil lair was super cool. The music was really good. Some scenes were total blackness with no detail to see. Overall, it felt unfocused. It didn’t finish with an ending that shouted, “We need another season right now.”

What I do want to do is watch this season again from start to finish. There is so much going on, I feel I missed a lot of the details.

The women directors were Amanda Brotchie and M.J. Delaney. The series is on Disney+. If you watch it, please share your reactions in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Renegade Nell: a new series from Sally Wainwright”

  1. Ileene Mittleman

    Agree. Not typical Sally fare … felt a little like Gentleman Jack meets Pirates of the Caribbean, but a fun, magical romp nevertheless. Perfect casting for Nell and although a surprise, the musical number was crisp … and cleverly done. Plenty of girl power , good vs evil and social conscience… delighted that a younger audience may discover Sally’s charms … although I believe , mature female drama/comedy is where her genius shines most brightly . Bring on Hot Flush … can’t wait!

    1. The music in some of the brighter moments had a very Gentleman Jack feel to it. I meant to check to see if it was the same composer. If Nell becomes a Disney favorite heroine with the younger generation, I will be very happy about that. She has all the characteristics of a Disney heroine, so fingers crossed.

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