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The Gilded Age is the American version of Downton Abbey, and this is everything you need to know

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Created by Julian Fellowes, the man behind the original television show, this HBO series will follow the lives of the rich and famous in late 19th century New York. We’re already on board.

They called it the ‘Gilded Age’, a window of time in American society so prosperous, so full of business and industry success, that the country has never seen its like before or since. 

This was the era in which wealthy American families like railroad tycoons the Vanderbilts, and publishing magnates the Hearsts, came into their wealth. They lived hard in New York and they played hard in sprawling mansions erected in leisure centres like Newport, Rhode Island, where the Vanderbilts built their mega-mansion The Breakers (at an estimated cost of $150 million) and which remains a playground for the rich and famous even today. Taylor Swift, Jay Leno and Judge Judy all own property in Rhode Island; the state played host to the wedding of JFK and Jackie Kennedy.

Unsurprisingly, then, it’s this era of history that will serve as the backdrop to The Gilded Age, a lavish new series coming to HBO from Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. When you think about it, the series is basically American Downton Abbey – it focusses on the rise and fall of a wealthy, dynastic family, it centres around the relationships between key family members and it will use a beautiful, stately home as its key location. 

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Downton Abbey fans, rejoice. The spirit of that television series will live on in this new show. Here is everything you need to know: 

What is The Gilded Age about? 

The Vanderbilts were one of the Gilded Age families, and they owned this mega-mansion called The Breakers in Rhode Island.

The Gilded Age is a 10 episode HBO miniseries coming to television in 2020. It will tell the story of the wealthy van Rhijn sisters and their young niece Marian Brook, the orphaned daughter of a southern general who moves in with her aunts in New York and finds herself embroiled in the murky world of high society.

On the fringes are Bertha and George Russell, a husband and wife team with a very misbehaved son called Larry, a family with plenty of new money but no social cachet who are desperately working to gain entrée into the ballrooms of the ‘Gilded Age’ set.

“To write The Gilded Age is the fulfilment of a personal dream,” Fellowes has said in a statement. “I have been fascinated by this period of American history for many years and now NBC has given me the chance to bring it to a modern audience. I could not be more excited and thrilled. The truth is, America is a wonderful country with a rich and varied history, and nothing could give me more pleasure than [to] be the person to bring that compelling history to the screen.” 

Who is in the cast of The Gilded Age

Ratched: Cynthia Nixon will appear alongside Sarah Paulson in the Netflix series.

Amanda Peet and Morgan Spector will star as husband and wife team Bertha and George Russell.

The role of Marian Brook, or the orphaned woman who ends up at the centre of New York high society, has yet to be cast. But playing her two aunts are – drum roll, please – Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon.

Baranski will be taking on the role of Agnes van Rhijn, whose advantageous marriage as a young woman helped secure her family’s fortunes. Nixon will play her sister Ava Brook, who is reliant on Agnes’ money to maintain her position in society. Agnes and Ava have all the makings of a scheming, biting partnership a la Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess and Penelope Wilton’s Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey, don’t they?

This marks the second time Baranski and Nixon have worked together, the first being in a project some 36 years ago.

Will there be any crossover between The Gilded Age and Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey the film is a visual feast for the eyes.
Downton Abbey movie: Maggie Smith returns as Violet Crawley.

Maybe?

Downton Abbey fans will rejoice to learn that the inimitable Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham played by Maggie Smith on the long-running TV series, might be making an appearance in The Gilded Age.

Famously, Violet went to America to find a wife for her son Robert, succeeding when she married him to Cora Levinson, the American heiress whose large dowry saves Downton from ruin. Fellowes has expressed his desire to have a young Violet, with children Robert and Rosamund in tow, make an appearance.

“It might be quite fun to have a young Violet getting into trouble, and her son Robert and daughter Rosamund, who would be in their early teens in the 1880s,” Fellowes told The Telegraph

When will The Gilded Age premiere?

The series has been in the works for some time, after first being mooted in 2012 before receiving an official greenlight in January 2018. That was at NBC, and the project has since moved from that television network to HBO, where production is currently underway.

Given the size and scope of the 10 episode miniseries, The Gilded Age is unlikely to premiere in 2019. But you can rest assured that the series, which is filming now, will be on screens in 2020. And not a moment too soon for all the Downton Abbey fans suffering from withdrawal after this year’s movie adaptation marked the end of the series.

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“I feel very privileged to be making The Gilded Age with HBO,” Fellowes said in a statement. “It has been a dream of mine for some time, as I am fascinated by this brutal and intensely glamorous period of America’s history. It will be about ambition, of course, and envy and hatred and, perhaps most of all, about love. I hope people will enjoy the series. I know I will enjoy making it.”

We’ll keep you posted when an official premiere date is confirmed.

Images: Jaap Buitendijk - © 2019 Focus Features, Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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