Hang on to your corsets, monocles, and britches, The Gilded Age season 1 is coming to HBO and Sky Atlantic. If anyone can rustle up a good period drama it’s Julian Fellowes, creator of the Downton Abbey TV series and movie franchise. Now it looks like he could hit the jackpot again with his new series The Gilded Age, following the high society movers and shakers of 1880s New York.
So here’s everything you need to know about nine-part costume drama The Gilded Age that arrives on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic/NOW in the UK in January 2022...
- Is The Gilded Age the new Downton Abbey? From the lavish settings to the grande dames we compare the two!
- 'The Gilded Age' will be back for a second season
The Gilded Age plot and what happens
Julian Fellowes latest period drama The Gilded Age is set in and around New York during the 1880s. The title refers to this time of prosperity in the United States thanks to the industrial boom, and the show will follow the comings and goings of the upper echelons of New York’s high society during that time.
The story begins in 1882, introducing us to young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), the orphaned daughter of a Union general who moves into the New York City home of her thoroughly old-money aunts Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranksi) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). Marian inadvertently becomes caught up in a social war between one of her aunts, a scion of the old-money set, and her stupendously rich neighbors, the ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, George and Bertha Russell, plus their son Larry.
Haughty Agnes is a pillar of the established upper classes and she’s horrified when George Russell (Morgan Spector), a wealthy and ruthless railroad tycoon, becomes her neighbour. George’s ambitious wife Bertha (Carrie Coon) is desperate to join the cream of society but their nouveau riche background proves a barrier.
"Agnes is really stringent and authoritative. But she has a really dry humour," says Christine Baranski. "She’s appalled by the change in the city, as people are spending insane amounts of money to impress other people."
Meanwhile, as Marian and her friend, budding writer Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), who she meets on the journey to New York, try to find their place within the bustling social whirl, the Russells’ kind graduate son Larry (Poldark star Harry Richardson) catches Marian’s eye, while her lawyer Tom Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel) also take a shine to her. But as Marian gets caught up in the city’s class warfare, can she follow her heart?
"Marian knows her probable fate will be to marry as well as she can, but she wants more. She’s curtailed by the rules of her time, but there’s a modern streak in her. She wants to do something with her life," says Louisa. "Marian discovers how to manoeuvre around the rules..."
Keen for his many fans to invest in the characters, Julian Fellowes is quick to point out that The Gilded Age is not a prequel to Downton Abbey, in which events started in 1912 with news of the Titanic's sinking.
“In fact, The Gilded Age is about a period much earlier than Downton Abbey,” says Julian. “It’s 1880s New York and its various types and things that were going on there."
So here's everything to know about The Gilded Age, including interviews with the cast, plot and character details, plus a weekly running episode guide...
The Gilded Age release date on HBO and Sky Atlantic
The Gilded Age premiered in the US on HBO on Monday, Jan. 24, and in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday, Jan. 25. The new drama is also available on streaming service NOW.
The Gilded Age episode 2 (titled 'Never the New Part 2') will air in the US on Monday, Jan. 31st 9pm (ET) on HBO. If you missed episode 1 you can catch up on HBO Max.
In the UK the second episode will air on Tuesday, Feb. 1st on Sky Atlantic. You will also be able to catch up on NOW.
The nine-part series is a co-production between HBO and Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group.
Is there a trailer for The Gilded Age?
Yes a full trailer for The Gilded Age has been released by HBO and Sky Atlantic and it shows that the 9-part drama is just as lavish as we thought it would be! Take a look below...
'The Gilded Age' locations
A photo posted by on
A photo posted by on
See some of the first looks of The GIlded Age crew around the Bethesda Fountain, New York, plus some instagram pictures and videos of filming (all above).
Filming of the series initially began in February in Rhode Island at the mansions Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, and The Breakers. It then moved to New York, filming at the Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, as well as around the city, including on Fifth Avenue in the lower 70s and in Central Park at Bethesda Terrace (see our first look main picture).
Filming also took place in Troy for a few weeks between Second and Third Street around its ornamental Washington Park. This is one of two private residential parks in the state (the other being Gramercy Park). Both parks have homeowners living next to the parks as caretakers who have the keys to unlock the park gates. The area’s architecture is perfect for depicting Manhattan in the 19th century. Set designers also helped transform the Washington Park and Monument Square areas into 1880s style, with building facades, elaborate storefronts, fake cobblestone, plus plenty of horse-drawn carriages. See the Instagram picture and video (above) posted by Caitlin Horgan and her husband Maxwell Woolley who own the Green House Mansion and who witnessed much of the filming in the Troy area.
Filming of The Gilded Age was originally due to take place in 2020 but the coronavirus outbreak scuppered plans.
The Gilded Age cast — who's starring
The Gilded Age boasts a stellar cast and leading the way is newcomer Louisa Jacobson (Meryl Streep's daughter) who plays Marian Brook, the young heroine from an old Pennsylvania family. Cynthia Nixon, known to many as Miranda in Sex and the City, will play Marian's aunt Ada Brook while Mamma Mia! And Chicago star Christine Baranski is Marian's other aunt Agnes van Rhijn.
Kelli O'Hara (The King & I) is playing Aurora Fane, who is Agnes van Rhijn's niece by marriage and who takes Marian under her wing. Among Marian's possible suitors is Agnes' son Oscar Van Rhijn, played by Indian Summers star Blake Ritson. Another gentleman on the scene is Tom Raikes (The 100 star Thomas Cocquerel), a sensible young lawyer.
Denée Benton (Hamilton) plays Peggy Scott, Marian's African American friend and an ambitious writer. John Douglas Thompson is her father, Arthur Scott, a freed slave and successful businessman, while six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald is her mother Dorothy.
Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) plays middle-class-born Bertha Russell, and Morgan Spector (Homeland) is her robber-baron husband, George Russell. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) plays their daughter Gladys, and Harry Richardson (of Poldark fame) is son Larry. Patrick Page (Hadestown) is George's secretary Richard Clay.
Amy Forsyth (The Path) plays Caroline 'Carrie' Astor, the daughter of one of the most powerful women in New York, while Hollywood star Nathan Lane (Mouse Hunt) is Ward McAllister who is Mrs Astor's Confidant and gatekeeper of her social circle.
Also look out for Jeanne Tripplehorn (Big Love) as Sylvia Chamberlain, a tall, beautiful enigmatic figure in society. Bill Irwin (Rachel Getting Married) portrays Cornelius Eckhard, Ada's a former beau from her days in Pennsylvania, who may still hold a flame for her.
Just like in Downton Abbey, there are plenty of 'below stairs' characters too. In the Van Rhijn household this includes Simon Jones (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as butler Bannister, Debra Monk (Redwood Curtain) as lady's maid Armstrong, and Kristine Nielsen as the cook Mrs Bauer.
Meanwhile, the Russells' household staff include Jack Gilpin (Billions) as the butler Church, Celia Keenan-Bolger playing housekeeper Mrs Bruce, and Douglas Sills is French chef Monsieur Baudin. Michael Cerveris (Assassins) is the valet Watson, and Kelley Curran (The Blacklist) is Turner, the lady's maid.
Ada's house has Taylor Richardson (All Together Now) as her maid Bridget, and Ben Ahlers (When the Street Lights Go On) is Jack Treacher, the footman.
Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon playing Agnes and Ada in The Gilded Age
Mamma Mia! star Christine Baranski and Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon reveal their thoughts on being a part of The Gilded Age.
What appealed to you about this series?
Christine says: "I’ve never done a period piece on film before. I wanted to be like my idol, Maggie Smith! I’ve done a lot of plays with corsets, but when you do a play, you’re wearing a corset for three hours. Here, it could be 14 hours a day!"
Tell us a bit about your characters…
Christine says: "Agnes is one of those crusty old characters. She’s absolutely certain that her decision is the right decision. She has a dry, withering humour, but you also see a softer side to her."
Cynthia says: "I found the character of Ada delicious with her humour and her sweetness. I don’t often get to play characters like her. I play a lot of brave people, and Ada’s not."
What does Marian Brook make of her aunts?
Cynthia says: "She comes to live with us, kind of under duress, and after she meets us, she has this great line where she says that one of us is clever but not very kind and that one of us is kind but not very clever. I’m the not very clever one!"
Have you worked together before?
Christine says: "Yes. Cynthia and I did a play on Broadway 37 years ago, so we go way back. I played her mother when she was still a student. It was an incredibly happy experience!"
Cynthia says: "When I heard that Christine was going to play Agnes, it was very exciting!"
Louisa Jacobson on playing Marian Brook
The story of The Gilded Age flows through the eyes of Marian Brook, who moves from Pennsylvania to live with her estranged aunts Agnes and Ada in Manhattan after her father leaves her penniless.
Louisa Jacobson, who plays her, says: “I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan and period drama is my favorite genre. With Julian Fellowes' writing, you get the impression that there’s so much more happening than what’s on the page. I had to read them a few times to understand the dynamics between characters, and then they came alive for me in amazing and unexpected ways. That subtext that allowed room for play is what appealed to me most.
On the complex friendship between Marian and Peggy, Louisa says: “We talked about it a lot. A Black woman and a white woman at that time would not automatically have become fast friends. There were too many obstacles to that. Peggy has to be careful — the stakes are more a matter of life and death for her, and Marian doesn’t understand that.”
Filming The Gilded Age was a voyage of discovery for Louisa. “The first three months of shooting were a real learning curve for me. At first I thought Marian was more rebellious and contrarian; I thought she was testy and petulant and not afraid to let them know it. But from the notes I was given, I learned, ‘You’re not upset. You’re happy to be with your aunts.’ I wrestled with the idea that while there are nods to her being rebellious in the scripts, she was also this ingenue who has to be likeable and lovely.”
Working with veterans like Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski helped her adjust Louisa says. “I was terrified most of the time in the beginning, but they made me relax. I loved both of them. They were wonderful to work with and we had a great time.”
Denée Benton on playing Peggy
Denée Benton is playing Peggy Scott, a young African American woman who takes a job as secretary in the van Rhijn home.
Denée says: “I really connected with Peggy. I could relate to her identity as the child of the first generation of a professional black family who must deal with the pressures and opportunities that come with that.”
Peggy defies her parents’ wishes for her career, choosing to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. “She’s dealing with the expectations of her father in a male-dominated space. As part of the first generation out of slavery, the world he has built for his family is incredible, and he expects you to fall in line. Even if it’s good and beautiful, though, it’s not what she wants for herself. For black parents, when the opportunities are limited, that can lead to a tightening of their grip.”
Peggy of course must operate as a black woman in the predominantly white high society of the time. "It’s a fine line black women have walked for generations and can come at the cost of being freely yourself,” she says.
The complex relationship between Peggy and her friend Marian prompted close collaboration between Denée Benton and Louisa Jacobson to play the friends. “Louisa was an amazing scene partner,” says Denée. “We talked a lot about what is different between Peggy and Marian, but also about us being two young women who have their own voices, on totally different paths from how they were raised. It’s what Louisa and I call the parallel love story of Peggy and Marian. They trust in each other, learn from each other and lean on each other, while also creating some sharp boundaries between themselves – rather than falling."
Morgan Spector on playing ruthless tycoon George Russell
Morgan Spector, star of Homeland and The Plot Against America, plays George Russell, a ruthless tycoon but devoted husband and father.
Morgan says: “There’s something very attractive about a character who is completely unscrupulous. That’s only true in one sphere of George's life; at home he’s an extremely conscientious husband and father. But in business, he’s utterly ruthless, and creative.
“As dark as George can be, it’s always refined. He’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. That’s very enjoyable. I sometimes wonder who I would be if I had no regard for the lives of other people. It’s a dark thought, but sometimes a tempting one, so it’s fun to play in that sandbox.
“Mostly though, I love George’s relationship to wife Bertha. She has her own gladiatorial arena, and even though it’s different from his, he understands her ambition and her will to power. For the period I think they have a wonderful partnership."
The Gilded Age creator Julian Fellowes on his American influences and writing the show
Aside from the multiple award-winning ITV series Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes has got serious credentials when it comes to writing. The former actor penned the film Gosford Park which won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2002. He’s also written Belgravia, Young Victoria, The English Game and he co-wrote The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, which raked in $278 million worldwide. Julian has also acted in several films and TV series, including Our Friends in the North, Tomorrow Never Dies and Monarch of the Glen.
“America has been part of my life since I was 21,” Julian Fellowes reveals. “My parents’ 21st birthday present to me was a tour of the country, and I’ve been coming back regularly ever since. I lived in Los Angeles for more than two years in my early 30s and I previously worked on a number of American projects. I have a greater knowledge of and affection for America than any other country besides Britain.
“I was always interested in the so-called ‘Gilded Age,’ that period after the Civil War in the 1870s and 1880s, when enormous fortunes made from railway, shipping, copper and coal were flooding into New York. It's the ‘gilded age,’ not the ‘golden age.’ It was all about the look of things, making the right appearance, creating the right image.
“Ten years ago, I used to walk around New York City and think all the Gilded Age palaces had been demolished, but I discovered they hadn’t. If you go up Fifth Avenue, you can still find some of the Gilded Age houses in the cross streets. Seeing the houses where these people lived made it very vivid for me,”
Julian Fellowes on the movers and shakers of 1880s New York, when The Gilded Age is set…
“These people were extraordinary," explains Julian Fellowes of The Gilded Age. "You can see why they frightened the old guard, because they saw no boundaries. They wanted to build a palace, they built a palace. They wanted to buy a yacht, they bought a yacht. The old guard in New York weren't like that at all, and suddenly this whirlwind of couture descended on their heads. The newcomers redesigned being rich. They created a rich culture that we still have today.”
The Gilded Age episode guide (with spoilers)
Every week we'll update here with an episode review of The Gilded Age after its American broadcast. They'll each contain spoilers so please don't click on the links if you want to enjoy the episode first...
I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.
Get the latest updates, reviews and unmissable series to watch and more!
Thank you for signing up to Whattowatch. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.