Pistol-packer

Published date02 April 2024
Publication titleSignal
GOD knows, after the final triumphant, harrowing series of Happy Valley last year, writer/producer Sally Wainwright has earned the right to kick back and relax a bit. Renegade Nell is the result. Seemingly designed for a younger audience than her usual fare, this is a fun, slightly odd, definitely slighter piece of work that channels the spirit of perhaps her second-most famous work, Gentleman Jack, and adds a supernatural twist to it

This time we are in the 18th century and, unusually, down south. Our heroine is Nell Jackson — Louisa Harland, who made her name as the giddy Orla in Derry Girls, and could not be more brilliant here in a wholly different part. She returns to her native village of Tottenham five years after she was thought to have been killed with her soldier husband on the battlefield to find her family and friends at first perturbed, then happy to see her back.

Not only is she alive but, when under pressure or in fear for her life, she is vouchsafed — courtesy of a little firefly/Harry Potter Golden Snitch-type thing that zooms into her ear or mouth at the crucial moment — superhuman abilities. Every episode contains two or three set pieces in which she gets to dodge bullets, throw villains into trees and generally gain the upper hand over those who seek to hurt her or her family.

Unfortunately, one of these villains is the village landlord’s son Thomas Blancheford (Jake Dunn). Already quite a naturally vengeful soul, he is also under the influence of the — possibly literally — devilish Robert Hennessey, Earl of Poynton (Adrian Lester) and as a result, Nell and her sisters are soon orphaned, homeless and on the run. Nell has been framed for murder, too, and must disguise herself as a highwayman in order to support her family and Rasselas (Enyi Okoronkwo), Blancheford’s former groom, who risked his life to help them escape. She becomes dazzlingly successful in...

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