TV Review: “Renegade Nell” Tells a Gritty, Yet Magical Tale from 18th Century England

England in the early 1700s is given a gritty, yet magical twist in the new Disney+ series Renegade Nell. The series focuses on Nell Jackson (Louisa Harland of Derry Girls fame), a quick-witted and courageous young woman, who finds herself framed for murder and unexpectedly becomes the most notorious outlaw in 18th-century England. The very first scenes of the opening episode introduce us to Nell, who comes across a highway robbery and, after being beaten up a bit, is able to save the day with some almost magical action abilities.

You see, a pixie type spirit appears to enter her mouth, giving Nell these incredible abilities. It turns out that pixie is actually a sentient spirit called Billy Blind (played with loving cockney charm by Ted Lasso’s Nick Mohammed). Billy’s abilities come in handy when, after reuniting with her father and siblings, Nell gets into a bind with Thomas Blancheford (Jake Dunn), the town magistrate’s son, who seems to be up to some dark and devious dealings. It’s here we learn that Billy will only intervene when Nell is attacked, not if she’s the one starting a fight.

Nell ends up being framed for the death of the town’s magistrate, who was actually killed by his own son, Thomas Blancheford. As the story continues, Nell and her sisters go on the run, receiving some help from the two-faced Charles Devereux (Frank Dilane) and Rasselas (Enyi Okoronkwo), an overly eager to help former servant of Blancheford’s who could have a history a bit more complicated than he knows.

Meanwhile, Blancheford’s dark dealings are really being instigated by the Earl of Poynton (Adrian Lester), who appears to have some connection with dark magic. At the end of the second episode, he’s seen conjuring up some of that magic, creating a dark horseman who appears to be charging after Nell and her friends. These two villains, along with the sister that appears to be caught up in all the tragedy (played by Alice Kremelberg), create a wonderful villainous trio, leaving you wondering just who the true mastermind really is.

Louisa Harland is excellent as Nell, putting in a very different performance (and accent) from her role in the popular comedy series Derry Girls. She sells the action scenes, while also having an endearing personality that definitely makes you want to root for her as the main protagonist. Props also have to be given to the director of the first two episodes, Ben Taylor (Sex Education), and the entire production crew for effortlessly bringing to life the setting of 18th century England. It feels lived in with gorgeous, as well as appropriately dirty, costumes, and wonderful location work.

While by no means bleak in tone – in fact, I’d go as far to say it’s swashbuckling – the series is a little darker than you’d imagine for a Disney+ project. Dead horses are shown, one of Nell’s loved ones is killed, and while not much is shown, the beatings and fights can get a little brutal. While this is by no means an extremely dark show, it still makes me wonder what audience Disney is going after with the series, and if perhaps this is not a better fit for Hulu.

Renegade Nell will premiere all episodes on Friday, March 29th, exclusively on Disney+.

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Luke Manning
Luke is a fan of all things theme parks and self-proclaimed #1 fan of Joffrey’s Coffee, who lives in Kissimmee, FL