Fashion

A First Glimpse at ‘The Gilded Age,’ Julian Fellowes’s Sumptuous New Period Drama

Period drama fans are in for a double-bill of Julian Fellowes projects in 2022. While the Crawleys will return for Downton Abbey: A New Era in March, Fellowes’s long-awaited The Gilded Age will premiere on January 24 on HBO. Set in New York at the close of the 19th century, the nine-part drama series finds its heroine in Marian Brook—played by Meryl Streep’s daughter Louisa Jacobson in her acting debut.

Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski will star as Marian Brook’s moneyed, conservative aunts.

Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

When her father passes away, Marian must relocate from the Pennsylvania countryside to New York, with her moneyed aunts, Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon), taking her in as a companion. Their read on the social revolution underway in Manhattan? “Power belongs to old New York, my dear—not the new, never the new,” Baranski declares in the first trailer. “The old have been in charge since before the revolution, until the new people invaded.” Dividing Marian’s loyalties: her newfound friend, Peggy Scott (Denée Benton), who moves to the city to try her hand at writing, and her aunts’ neighbors, George and Bertha Russell (Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon), who made a staggering fortune via the booming railway industry.

And while Fellowes has teased that Downton fans may well see a cameo from the young dowager countess (Maggie Smith) in the series, there’s no doubt that much of the drama will focus on people more akin to the Crawley daughters’ other “grandmama”: the Newport socialite Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine). “These people were extraordinary,” Fellowes said of the Gilded Age industrialists when announcing the series in 2016. “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. And the old guard in New York weren’t like that at all, and suddenly this whirlwind of couture descended on their heads. They redesigned being rich. They created a rich culture that we still have.”

The Russells will act as symbols of the newly wealthy families turning Manhattan society on its head. 

Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

Interestingly, The Sopranos’s Bob Shaw served as production designer on The Gilded Age, while Moonrise Kingdom’s Kasia Walicka-Maimone has overseen the costumes. Filming has reportedly taken place at a number of locations in Rhode Island, including Bellevue mansions such as Chateau-sur-Mer and Cornelius Vanderbilt’s fabled summer residence The Breakers. Lyndhurst, a Gothic Revival mansion in Tarrytown, New York, is also expected to feature, while the town of Troy, with its well-preserved 19th-century buildings, will stand in for Victorian-era Manhattan. To quote Spector’s George in the teaser: “Let the tournament begin.”


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