Get a first look at The Gilded Age, Julian Fellowes' much-anticipated follow-up to Downton Abbey
And just like that, HBO is about to premiere another series about a group of very dynamic women in New York City!
Remember all that talk about The Gilded Age, the much-anticipated follow-up to Downton Abbey from writer/producer Julian Fellowes? Originally developed by NBC in 2018, the period piece about the one-percenters in 1880s New York City ended up at HBO a year later. The premium network is finally ready to roll out the drama in January, and EW has the exclusive first lsaaassook.
The Gilded Age stars Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) as the unmarried Ada Brook and Christine Baranski (The Good Fight) as the widowed Agnes van Rhijn, both of whom are sisters and members of the (old) New York aristocracy. They take in their penniless niece Marian (newcomer Louisa Jacobson), who arrives just in time to meet the fabulously wealthy new neighbors (The Leftovers' Carrie Coon and The Plot Against America's Morgan Spector, below, as Bertha and George Russell), whose spare-no-expense attempts to break into society are met with disdain.
"It was originally Mark Twain who called this the gilded age," Fellowes tells EW of the time period. "The important word is gilded. It's not the golden age, it's the gilded age. And that tells us it was all about the surface. It was all about the look of things, making the right appearance, creating the right image. That's what was really what distinguished the era. What happened after the Civil War was over was how these enormous fortunes grew out of it. You saw these enormous railway fortunes, shipping fortunes, copper, coal. These fantastically rich individuals descended on New York where they found a perfectly settled indigenous upper class based on the families of Scotland and England who had come over 200 or 300 years before. But they were more modest. They were living in houses in Washington Square that were not enormous. They lived respectable lives and that was New York society at the time. But for the new arrivals, that wasn't enough for them. They wanted to do something bigger and better. They started to build these palaces on Fifth Avenue and gradually pushed further north. So you had these great rivalries between the new families and the old."
The series also stars Our Friend's Denée Benton—below right, with Jacobson (who, fun fact, is Meryl Streep's youngest daughter)—as Peggy Scott, a budding writer who comes to Marian's aid during her trip to New York City and ends up working for Agnes because of her good penmanship. But her employ raises an eyebrow or two. "While it was a period of expansive wealth and great opulence for a small segment of Americans, it was also a time when social inequities were glaring," says Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a co-executive producer and historical consultant on The Gilded Age. "Viewers will see these different worlds and be able to connect the past to the present."
The series also introduces a number of dynamic characters who work in the Russell and van Rhijn households, but The Gilded Age shouldn't be viewed as a Downton 2.0. "Someone will accuse me of that anyway, so I don't think I'll let it hold me up much," quips Fellowes, who's executive producing the series with his former Downton partner, Gareth Neame. "When we recreate that period, we're as interested in the people working below the stairs as we are in the people above it. It was an integral part of that life, and I don't really see how you can tell those stories anymore and not define the servant characters because they were all there. They were all thinking and feeling and having opinions about their employers and plans for their own lives."
Adds Dunbar, "While The Gilded Age is a fictional show, it's important to ground the storytelling in authenticity. We want viewers to feel and see a landscape that is from the past yet believable and accurate. The show takes place in late 19th century America when the country was moving into a modern era. We want viewers to experience and marvel at the progress of that moment but to also understand the very real hurdles that existed for many Americans."
The Gilded Age debuts Monday, Jan. 24, at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. It will also stream on HBO Max.
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