‘Renegade Nell’ Review: An Endlessly Funny, Queer, & Political Fantasy-Action Show For The Ages


There are a lot of production houses, and all these production houses have their own streaming platforms, with some of them owning multiple streaming platforms. All of these streaming platforms make original movies and TV shows while licensing movies and TV shows produced by other production houses. And all of these movies and TV shows are usually released on all of these streaming platforms almost every other day. Hence, it won’t be a stretch to say that it’s difficult to keep track of everything, especially when the marketing departments prioritize the stuff that can be easily sold to the general populace. With all that in mind, I had no idea that a show called Renegade Nell had been made and was being released on Disney+. Furthermore, after watching all eight episodes of it, I couldn’t believe that I had watched one of the best shows of the year. So, let’s talk about it!

Sally Wainwright’s Renegade Nell, which has been written by Wainwright, Emme Hoy, and Georgia Christou, with the episodes being directed by Ben Taylor, Amanda Brotchie, and MJ Delaney, tells the tale of the titular character, who is back from the dead and on her way to her home. While thwarting the highwayman, Isambard Tulley, and his gang, it is revealed that Nell Jackson has a guardian angel who imbues her with superpowers when she needs them the most. This angel, or pixie, who is called Billy Blind, isn’t visible to everyone. So, they just presume Nell is a superhero. That said, since it’s the 1700s, Nell is a woman, and word gets out that she has beaten up Thomas Blancheford (the son of Lord Blancheford, the guy who owns the town where Nell’s family lives), things get complicated for her and her loved ones. They are forced to go on the run, but the journey eventually ends up molding them into the people they are meant to be.

Renegade Nell is undoubtedly one of the funniest shows I have watched this year. I know it’s too early to make such a statement, but I laughed so much and rewound so many moments to enjoy and re-enjoy a joke that I think it’s safe to make said statement. The comedy is really organic and derives from the unique features of each of the characters. None of them are interchangeable, and it’s so fascinating to see them grow over the course of eight beautifully written episodes. That can sound like the bare minimum, but so many comedy-heavy shows (and movies) nowadays are filled with characters who stand and spew jokes that don’t stem from their specific life experiences. So, it’s refreshing to see a show do the bare minimum while doing magic-based shenanigans, drawing from British history (there’s stuff like Herne the Hunter, Queen Anne, James Francis Edward Stuart, Jacobites, etc.), and also making space for these soft, heartfelt moments between the protagonists. To be honest, it got me teary-eyed.

Renegade Nell is queer and political as well. I know, it’s a Disney show, and it’s notorious for queer-baiting viewers and also constructing queer moments in a way that can be omitted before being released in certain bigoted countries. But, much like Willow (another Disney show that you must watch), the queerness is integral to the plot and is presented in such a sweet way that it made my heart melt. In addition to that, it has Alice Kremelberg, an actor who identifies as queer, and Iz Hesketh, a trans-non-binary person, and I love both of them. The show’s political commentary is quite intriguing. There’s the overarching conflict about the monarchy, which, through the lens of Jacobitism, talks about religious politics versus democracy (or maybe an electoral autocracy). And then there’s the class conflict between the Blanchefords and Trotters, which illustrates how unforgiving the rich are, even though they have every privilege at their disposal. The writers draw parallels with the present situation of the law (which backs the affluent), the press (which doesn’t print news that highlights people-centric issues anymore), jails (which are filled with victims of wrongful incarceration), and wars (which are being waged by the rich and fought by the poor).

Renegade Nell looks and sounds insanely good. The cinematography (the camera bloody moves!), the editing, the visual effects, the special effects, the action choreography, the costumes, the make-up, the sets, the score—it’s all so mind-blowingly fantastic. The attention to detail is astounding, and the way Wainwright and her team have extracted every drop of potential that this show has is worth a huge round of applause. You can see them swinging for the fences for the Herne the Hunter set piece, the jailbreak attack, the musical opening, and the final fight. But even when the characters are not doing something awesome, they manage to do something intriguing with them, e.g., Charles Devereux’s iron foot clamps, the heroic crash zoom to Nell even though she has nothing heroic up her sleeves, Polly Honeycombe’s letter-writing, and the fake Nell Jackson reveal. The horror-related stuff is probably too spoiler-filled. Therefore, I won’t exactly say what happened, but I assure you that it’s pretty intense and scary. There are several moments where I gasped and screamed out loud, and for your information, I have watched around 600 horror films. Consider that my stamp of approval.

I love the cast of Renegade Nell. Louisa Harland is an action-comedy star. I do wish she got more comfortable with stunts and didn’t have to switch places with her stunt double during pivotal moments. Apart from that, she is brilliant. Frank Dillane is delightful and charming. Nick Mohammed feels like the comic relief, but it’s fascinating how he becomes the heart of the show. Alice Kremelberg is excellent. The emotions that she portrays with just her forehead and her flexed jaw can put many seasoned actors to shame. Adrian Lester is a force of nature. The use of his vocals and body language to induce fear is marvelous. Jake Dunn doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he is impactful, and he makes it really easy for you to hate Thomas Blancheford. Bo Bragason, Florence Keen, and Enyi Okoronkwo are the backbone of the show. All of them are so sweet that I could’ve watched an entire episode dedicated to them simply loitering about and wasting time. Joely Richardson has had quite a year, hasn’t she, with One Day, The Gentlemen, and now this? Good for her! Ashna Rabheru is brilliant. Pip Torrens, Craig Parkinson, Iz Hesketh, and the rest of the supporting cast are all splendid.

Renegade Nell’s color-blind casting is an interesting phenomenon. The central cast, the supporting cast, and the background actors are all very diverse, and that’s a welcome sight. But then the show is reckoning with England’s history with the races these actors represent, which made me question its attempt at creating this magical, alternate history a bit. Then, it’s (accidentally or maybe intentionally) painting a problematic picture with its “villain planning an invasion” versus “save the queen” narrative. So, yes, it’s complicated. Apart from that, I loved every aspect of the show. At the risk of being a tad reductive, I think it scratched a particular itch that is lodged in my brain due to Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies. It’s the perfect amalgamation of comedy, romance, action, drama, and politics. I don’t know if I’m going to get to see more seasons of Renegade Nell since I’m not sure how many people are going to tune into it, thereby encouraging producers to push the button for the greenlight. But since that’s something that’s out of my hands, there’s no point in worrying too much about it. Instead, I’ll relish the fact that this show exists and recommend it to everyone and anyone I come across.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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