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A star rating of 4 out of 5.

Hot on the heels of the conclusion of Gentlemen Jack and Happy Valley, Sally Wainwright is back with her latest show: swashbuckling fantasy adventure series Renegade Nell, which follows Nell Jackson (played with verve by Derry Girls actress Louisa Harland), a young 18th-century highwaywoman with sporadic supernatural powers.


The Disney Plus series marks a different direction for Wainwright in many ways. Toeing the line between young adult and adult, it feels like a mash-up of Merlin, Robin Hood and Enola Holmes, with humour, fantasy and feminism all thrown into the mix.

But just like Wainwright's previous shows, Renegade Nell is anchored by a magnificent heroine. We first meet Harland's Nell as she returns from fighting – dressed as a man – in the Battle of Blenheim, and is hijacked in the forest by famed highwayman Isambard Tulley, who soon gets more than he bargained for.

"You’re not a man," he says, to which Nell responds, "And?"

That’s not the only surprise he gets, as a tiny winged magical spirit called Billy Blind (Nick Mohammed) appears, whizzes in Nell’s mouth, and bestows her with the ability to do things like catch bullets and fling Tulley and his gang across the forest floor.

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Nick Mohammed plays a fairy-esque figure in Renegade Nell with wings and a green embroidered costume
Nick Mohammed stars in Renegade Nell. Disney

Upon arriving back in Tottenham, Nell causes more chaos when she discovers the local landowner's son Thomas Blancheford (Jake Dunn, magnificently villainous) has been bullying her family for fun during her absence. Her stay there proves short-lived, however, when she’s framed for a murder she didn’t commit.

Nell grows determined to clear her name. But forced on the run and into a life of crime, she soon manages to become the most feared highwaywoman in the land – only complicating her situation further.

A wildly enjoyable romp ensues as Nell’s enemies – both mortal and magical – do all they can to hunt her down.

Harland’s fight sequences are very funny and genuinely thrilling, and revel in their absurdity – her opponents only strike at convenient times and, in one scene, chase her out of the front door even though she’s just leapt through the window, giving her adequate time to escape.

There’s also a cathartic glee to watching these scenes because it’s always privileged aristocrats that Nell is deceiving, or leaving in a crumple on the floor. And it's in this regard that there’s more to the series than just frivolity: issues of class conflict and social justice – familiar Wainwright themes – are at the heart of the narrative.

Enyi Okoronkwo as Rasselas, Louisa Harland as Nell in The Ballad Of Renegade Nell standing in front of a carriage
Enyi Okoronkwo as Rasselas and Louisa Harland as Nell in The Ballad Of Renegade Nell. Robert Viglasky/Disney+

Being a Wainwright invention, Nell is unsurprisingly brimming with dry wit, and Harland imbues the character with immeasurable charm and swagger (which could rival Suranne Jones's Gentleman Jack), as well as the courage and integrity which means she’s able to deliver lines like "we’re going to save them" convincingly.

Adrian Lester, Alice Kremelberg, Jake Dunn and Joely Richardson are magnificently evil as Nell’s adversaries, while Enyi Okoronkwo, Florence Keen and Roxy Jackson give terrific turns as her companions, and it speaks to the quality of their performances that we’re left rooting for them.

When a character does actually die (we won’t spoil who), it’s gutting – and the stakes get much higher.

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Although I initially found that Mohammed’s appearances as Billy Blind – who acts as a conscience and good friend to Nell – have the effect of pulling you out of the story (with his habit of admitting he has no idea why he’s there), his integral role to the plot soon becomes more clear, and a few episodes in the character wins you over.

Renegade Nell is well-paced and energetic, has a rollicking soundtrack, and delivers satisfying twists and turns en route to a crowd-pleasing finale as Nell finds herself confronting a deadly plot to destroy Queen Anne.

There's so much heart and humour, the series is impossible to resist.

Renegade Nell is coming to Disney Plus on Friday 29th March. Sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year.

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