A Super-Powered Sisterhood Takes London By Storm in HBO’s Epic New Series “The Nevers”
A cadre of corset-wearing Victorian-age superwomen have come to HBO in the new sci-fi drama “The Nevers.” A blend of period drama, escapist fantasy and comic book heroics, the series brings a sly feminist touch to the superhero genre.
The story picks up in London circa 1896 after a mysterious event leaves a group of people—mostly female and underclass—with otherworldly abilities. One young woman (Anna Devlin) is 10 feet tall, another (Rochelle Neil) shoots fire from her hands. Shunned as outcasts and branded the “Touched” by a society who fears their gifts, the women band together for safety and to better understand their powers.
The ladies take up residence at an orphanage—think X-Men’s Xavier Institute for Higher Learning—run by Amalia, clairvoyant matriarch with ninja fighting skills (“Outlander” fans will recognize the fabulous Laura Donnelly, who played Jamie’s feisty sister from the Scottish Highlands) and her best friend, Penance (Ann Skelly), a Q-like inventor with a lab full of ingenious steampunk creations and the power to conduct electricity. In the series opener, Penance invents an electric car—watch out, Elon Musk!
It’s always a joy to see brilliant women turn the tables on condescending men and “The Nevers” doesn’t disappoint. In verbal and physical brawls alike, the Touched face a seemingly unscalable wall of powerful and dismissive men with whom they must do battle.
With its crackerjack cast in sumptuous period costumes (there’s nothing like seeing a woman in full skirt and Victorian booties face-kick a disbelieving bad guy), the series is both a celebration of female empowerment and a valentine to the friendships of the women and the strength of their community. No doubt, you’ll have your favorite Touched. It may be close between Kiran Sonia Sawar’s Harriet, a young intellect and romantic who would be in law school were she not a lady, and Ella Smith’s Desirée, a flirty empath who can elicit people’s darkest secrets.
The Touched have a lot to deal with. Despite Amalia’s attempts to keep them safe, the city’s denizens grow ever more against them, a murderous religious fanatic is on a rampage, the government is about to declare them a terrorist group and an evil scientist (Denis O’Hare) is kidnapping them for nasty experiments.
The series is driven by Amalia’s determination to solve the mystery of what’s happened to them and parse the twisted motives of both friends and foes. Each episode ends with a juicy cliffhanger that gets us a little closer to that reveal.
It’s a rich setting for plot twists aplenty, impressive fights, devious villains and provocative sexual hijinks.
The latter comes in the form of a dashing aristocrat (James Norton of “Grantchester” fame) who runs a nightclub for the kink-inclined and sees the Touched with their unique skills (extreme flexibility, for example) as the perfect attraction for his events. In one particularly hands-on job interview, he opts not to hire a woman whose somewhat underwhelming power is always knowing the exact time of day.
“The show balances cheekiness and wit with bloody noses, broken bones and muddy boots,” says Elizabeth Berrington, who plays the Touched Lucy Best.
The series also uses its turn-of-the-century setting to tell a story very much about today. As the rumble of labor movements worry London’s ruling class, and women with money and political connections harness their influence, the city’s men denounce the Touched as having “a defect in character” and “a power that mocks God.” Their real fear is that the forces shaping society are increasingly beyond their control.
“It’s for people who feel different and for people who are feeling scared of people who seem different,” says Anna Devlin. “It’s a reminder that we’re all unique, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
The six-episode series premiered on HBO April 11. Watch new episodes on Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. You can also watch on demand or stream the series on HBO Max.
Program availability may have changed and is subject to change.