RENEGADE NELL Review: All About the Avatars

Sally Wainwright creates a new action-comedy-fantasy adventure series about the highwaymen era in England, starring Louisa Harland and Adrian Lester, debuting on Disney Plus.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
RENEGADE NELL Review: All About the Avatars

I'm not who you think I am. Or maybe I am, but not exactly?

Renegade Nell
The eight-episode series debuts Friday, March 29, on Disney Plus. I've seen all eight episodes.

"The 'golden age' of highwaymen was the 17th century and 18th century," according to historian Tim Lambert. He points out: "Perhaps it was an exciting way of life being a highwayman but it was usually a short one - most were caught and hanged before they were 35."

Perhaps that explains why films and television shows from around the world have returned time and again to this era in British history, as in The Completely Made Up Adventures of Dick Turpin, now streaming on Apple TV+. When I wrote about that series recently, I failed to realize that Dick Turpin was quite a famous highwayman who inspired earlier films.

Having all this in mind is quite helpful in approaching creator and writer Sally Wainwright's new series, Renegade Nell. Wainwright is known lately for creating the excellent crime series Happy Valley and the historical drama series Gentleman Jack, the latter of which is set in 1830s Britain.

Rewinding to early 17th century Britain, Wainwright centers her new series on Nell Jackson (Louisa Harland), who returns to England after honorable service with the military in France, fighting alongside her husband, who died in battle. In the first sequence of the first episode, she comes upon highwaymen attacking a carriage; when she rises to defend the innocent, a magical sprite enters her body and empowers her to become a superhero, as it were, before departing when the battle has concluded and bodies lie strewn along the road.

Nell has returned home to reunite with her father and sisters Roxy (Bo Bragason) and George (Florence Keen), and it all plays out like a ragged, if polite, period adventure story. In other words, initially, it seems like it fits quite well as a family show on the Disney Channel or Disney Plus.

Appearances can be deceiving, however. Quite stealthily, creator Sally Wainwright has not laid all her cards on the table. She begins dealing in plot complications by introducing a series of antagonistic characters, whose truly dastardly intentions are not immediately revealed. Nell and her sisters are soon drawn into a story that is quite a bit bigger and more encompassing than they could have imagined.

The series gets bogged down at times, feeling sluggish and ungainly. Also, the powers of the 'magical sprite,' actually named Billy Blind (Nick Mohammed), are confusingly defined, and a key early, antagonistic character is sidelined, only to be brought back later, solely for puzzling plot purposes.

So not everything 'works,' including the decision to employ ill-delineated 'dark arts' to compel human avatars to perform dark acts of violence. Much of the series, however, involves the use of avatars as a metaphor for compelling or tricking or convincing people to do things you want them to do, often against their will.

Among the cast, Louisa Harland and Bo Bragason are quite good, along with the ever-reliable Adrian Lester as the duplicitous Earl of Poynton and the effervescent Joely Richardson as a owner of many newspapers and broadsheets.

All eight episodes are dropping together on Friday, which is good timing for weekend viewing. It's more of an adventure story, filled with action, comedy, and fantasy elements, than a thriller, but it's a good watch.

Renegade Nell

  • Joely Richardson
  • Louisa Harland
  • Nick Mohammed
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Adrian LesterDisney PlusLouisa HarlandSally WainwrightJoely RichardsonNick MohammedActionAdventureDrama

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