The Gilded Age: Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes turns his hand to 1880s New York City for epic new HBO period drama

He’s famous for creating award-winning period drama Downton Abbey, but Julian Fellowes transports us back in time to the Gilded Age era of the United States in a new HBO series.

By Sophia Moir Published: 27 January 2022 - 5.03pm
The Gilded Age cast in character in a ballroom
Watch The Gilded Age weekly on Sky Atlantic with a NOW Entertainment Membership from January 25.

He might be famed for creating the award-winning period drama Downton Abbey, but Julian Fellowes has turned his attention stateside for his next TV series.

The Gilded Age focuses on the boom years of 1880s New York City, at a time when the United States was experiencing rapid economic growth.

The epic new drama is set to premiere on Sky Atlantic and NOW later this month, and we’ve got all the latest updates about the show right here, including the start date, cast, trailer and a potential Downton Abbey crossover…

Plus, don’t miss our picks of what to watch on NOW this month - and discover hidden Easter eggs from the Downton Abbey film.

The Gilded Age: Reviews and reaction from episode 1

What is The Gilded Age about?

The American Gilded Age was a period of immense economic change, of great conflict between the old ways and brand new systems, and of huge fortunes made and lost. 

Against the backdrop of this transformation, HBO’s The Gilded Age begins in 1882 with young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) moving from rural Pennsylvania to New York City after the death of her father to live with her thoroughly old-money aunts Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon).

Accompanied by Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), an aspiring writer seeking a fresh start, Marian gets caught up in a social war between one of her aunts, who's part of the old-money set, and her stupendously rich neighbours, a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, George (Morgan Spector) and Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon). 

Exposed to a world on the brink of the modern age, will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path?

The Gilded Age cast © 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved

How can I watch The Gilded Age in the UK?

The Gilded Age started on Tuesday, January 25 on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK. New episodes are available to watch weekly.

The series will consist of nine episodes, each an hour long.

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The Gilded Age: Reviews and reaction

The first episode of The Gilded Age was generally well received on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Lauren Morris of praises Fellowes' take on 19th century America.

"With an extensive cast of talented actors, elegant writing with a hint of humour and social dynamics to dig into, The Gilded Age harnesses the best of Fellowes' writing and applies it to American history," she writes in a four-star review.

Glamour's Tanya Christian applauds the diversity among the characters, a reminder that "fitting into America’s high society is not simply about race and wealth" and that The Gilded Age is ultimately about "the quintessential story of New York: People just trying to make it to the top."

She praises the casting and in particular the contrast between Aunts Agnes (Christine Baranski) and Ada (Cynthia Nixon): "Baranski brilliantly delivers the one-liners, Nixon brings the empathetic spirit, and Jacobson and Benton bring the charm that comes with finding one’s way in life and love," she writes.

Comparisons with Downton Abbey are inevitable, and the i's Gerard Gilbert identifies one promising parallel from the get-go.

"[Christine Baranski's Agnes Van Rhijn] is in many respects the acerbic twin of Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley, and it’s obviously going to be her battles with Bertha that will fuel the drama," he writes.

A citizen of 2022 New York was less impressed. Mike Hale of the New York Times criticises the "shopworn dialogue" and "one-note characterizations", while conceding that "there’s an awful lot of talent onscreen, and some performers register in smaller roles". 

Claiming the series lacked the sheer scale of Downton, Hale concludes: "As the Countess of Grantham said, things are different in America."

Who’s in the cast of The Gilded Age?

The Gilded Age boasts a star-studded cast including Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski. Discover more about the cast and characters below.

* Christine Baranski (Mamma Mia!, The Big Bang Theory) is Agnes van Rhijn, a proud and stubborn old money Dutch-American socialite clinging to the old values of New York City's elite

* Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City, Ratched) is Ada Brook, sister of Agnes and reliant upon her charity

* Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) is Bertha Russell, determined to use her money and position to break into a polite society that resists change at every turn

* Morgan Spector (The Plot Against America) is George Russell, a classic robber baron representing "new money"

* Musical theatre actress Denée Benton (Hamilton) is Peggy Scott, a young ambitious writer returning home after finishing her education

* Meryl Streep’s daughter Louisa Jacobson will make her TV debut playing Marian Brook, penniless and sent to live with her estranged aunts

Taissa Farmiga, Blake Ritson, Simon Jones, Harry Richardson, Thomas Cocquerel and Jack Gilpin also star.

The Gilded Age cast © 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved

Where was The Gilded Age filmed?

Filming of the series began in February 2021 in the American seaside city of Newport, Rhode Island, where there are a whole host of Gilded Age mansions. 

Production took place at sumptuous properties including the mansions Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, and The Breakers.

In April 2021, filming continued at The Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York and the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York. 

The following month, filming continued in the Central Troy Historic District in New York - one of the most perfectly preserved 19th-century downtowns in the United States. Here, multiple city blocks were transformed to resemble a Victorian era street.

Is there any crossover with Downton Abbey?

The Gilded Age is set in the same universe as Downton Abbey - albeit on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean and some 30 years prior. Indeed, Julian Fellowes was reported to be planning an American spin-off prequel of Downton Abbey as early as 2012.

He was thought to be focusing the show around the early romance of Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), before they married to become the Earl and Countess of Grantham, and had their three daughters.

Whilst The Gilded Age does not appear to be the spin-off that was originally proposed, creator Julian Fellowes has said that he hopes to have a younger version of the Countess of Grantham appear in the show at some point.

Watch The Gilded Age if you liked…

Downton Abbey, The English Game, Belgravia, Sanditon, Bridgerton, The Crown, Poldark.

Watch the dramatic trailer for The Gilded Age 

Main image copyright: © 2022 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved