The Gilded Age
Title screen of The Gilded Age on HBO.jpg
GenreHistorical drama
Created byJulian Fellowes
Written byJulian Fellowes
Directed by
Starring
Composers
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes9
Production
Executive producers
Producers
  • Holly Rymon
  • Claire M. Shanley
Running time46–80 minutes
Production companies
DistributorNBCUniversal Television Distribution
Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Release
Original networkHBO
Original releaseJanuary 24, 2022 (2022-01-24) –
present (present)

The Gilded Age is an American historical drama television series created and written by Julian Fellowes for HBO that is set in the United States during the Gilded Age, the boom years of the 1880s in New York City. Originally announced in 2018 for NBC, it was later announced in May 2019 that the show was moved to HBO.[1] The series premiered on January 24, 2022.[2] In February 2022, the series was renewed for a second season.[3] It has received mostly positive reviews, with particular praise for the costumes, cast and performances of lead actors Carrie Coon, Morgan Spector and Christine Baranski.

Premise

A young woman entering 1882 New York City's rigid social scene is drawn into the daily conflicts surrounding the nouveau riche Russell family and the established van Rhijn-Brook family as well as those faced by the upper and upper middle classes, the Black upper class, and the domestic workers that tend to all of their needs.

Cast and characters

Main

Recurring

Guest

Episodes

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateU.S. viewers
(millions)
1"Never the New"Michael EnglerJulian FellowesJanuary 24, 2022 (2022-01-24)0.463[8]
In 1882 New York City, industrialist George Russell moves into an elaborate Stanford White-designed mansion with his wife Bertha and their two children, son Larry and daughter Gladys. Across the street, sisters Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook prepare for the arrival of their niece Marian, who is leaving Doylestown, Pennsylvania after learning she will only inherit $30 from her deceased father's estate. Peggy Scott, a graduate of the Institute for Colored Youth, offers assistance when Marian's purse and train ticket are stolen. Marian reciprocates the good deed by convincing her aunts to let Peggy stay with them during inclement weather. Agnes offers Peggy employment on the condition she tells her parents about the situation; Peggy agrees and meets with her mother Dorothy, who insists she reconciles with her estranged father. Agnes' son Oscar and George's son Larry meet at a party hosted by socialite Mamie Fish, and both meet Marian upon returning to New York. Bertha attempts to break into high society by hosting a lavish party, which Marian secretly attends. No one of note arrives, however, and Bertha vows revenge.
2"Money Isn't Everything"Michael EnglerJulian FellowesJanuary 31, 2022 (2022-01-31)0.598[9]
Marian's lawyer from Doylestown, Tom Raikes, moves to New York City. He begins a new job and clarifies that he is romantically interested in Marian. Peggy is an aspiring writer and sends out query letters to potential publishers, but has gotten no replies yet. Peggy consults with Tom about a legal matter, but won't reveal the details to Marian. Meanwhile, Bertha attempts to be a part of Mrs. Morris and Mrs. Fane's upcoming charity bazaar by offering her ballroom as a venue. Instead, the event is held in a hotel at great expense, and Bertha is snubbed. Enraged, she and George go to the bazaar and he proceeds to buy everything, effectively shutting down the event. On the business side of things, George makes a plan with Alderman Patrick Morris, in which Morris and other aldermen will buy George's company stock on margin, pass a law that will allow George to build a new train station in the city, and everyone will make a large amount of money as a result.
3"Face the Music"Salli Richardson WhitfieldJulian FellowesFebruary 7, 2022 (2022-02-07)0.542[10]
George learns the law will not pass and realizes the aldermen are manipulating the stock to their advantage. The legislators sell short, promising to deliver shares at a lower price expecting them to go down. In retaliation, George buys back as much company stock as possible, driving the aldermen into poverty as they are forced to buy at the now higher price. Peggy is offered a chance to be published by the Christian Advocate, but she is met with several racist demands. As a result, she declines publication. Oscar plans to court Gladys Russell, much to the chagrin of his lover, John Adams. Ada is approached by Cornelius Eckhard, a man who once proposed to her and was turned away by Ada's father. Agnes reveals to Eckhard that she knows he only wanted to marry Ada because he thought she would be a "meal ticket." When he learns Ada has no money of her own, he stops pursuing her. Tom proposes marriage to Marian. She does not give him a definitive answer, and she knows Agnes would disapprove of the match. The aldermen beg George to stop inflating his company's stock price, but he refuses to show mercy. Facing complete ruin, Alderman Morris kills himself.
4"A Long Ladder"Salli Richardson WhitfieldJulian FellowesFebruary 14, 2022 (2022-02-14)0.604[11]
George offers to help the Fanes recover any money lost in the stocks debacle on the condition that Aurora helps introduce Bertha into the old money circles. Peggy receives interest in her writing from New York Globe editor T. Thomas Fortune, who hires her to write an article about political affiliations. Bannister gets the opportunity to see what life inside the Russell house is like after Ada's dog escapes during his walk and is found by Gladys. Sylvia Chamberlain, a widow, tainted by rumors that she was originally her late husband's mistress, attempts to make friends with Marian. Turner, Bertha's lady's maid, fails to strike up an affair with George. Bridget tells Mrs. Bauer that she was sexually abused as a child and her mother did not stop it. Peggy argues with her father during a visit to Brooklyn, during which Marian arrives unannounced with a bag of used shoes and offends the Scotts. While attending a concert for the Red Cross with Bertha and the Fanes, Marian runs into Tom. She insists he win over her aunts before accepting his marriage proposal.
5"Charity Has Two Functions"Salli Richardson WhitfieldJulian FellowesFebruary 21, 2022 (2022-02-21)0.631[12]
George convinces Bertha to invite Gladys's latest suitor, Archie Baldwin, to dinner. Peggy has not forgiven Marian's assumptions about her family. Mrs. Armstrong visits her invalid mother in a small tenement apartment. Bertha looks to Ward McAllister for assistance in climbing the social ladder. Aurora, Bertha, Marian, and Tom travel to Dansville to see Miss Barton speak at the opening of a Red Cross branch. Peggy travels with them to write an article and to keep an eye on Marian at Agnes's request. Miss Barton acknowledges that wealthy people use charity to better their standing in high society. Tom kisses Marian, and Peggy purposefully interrupts them. Privately, Peggy tells Marian that she once fell in love but her father disapproved. Marian apologizes to Peggy for thinking she needed charity. Oscar recruits Miss Turner as a spy in his quest to marry Gladys. George gives Archie an ultimatum: accept a lucrative job that George has arranged with J. & W. Seligman & Co. and stop pursuing Gladys, or refuse and never work in finance again. Archie, shaken, abruptly leaves. Richard Clay arrives to inform George that a company train derailed outside Millbourne, Pennsylvania and the number of casualties is still uncertain. George and Bertha prepare to address the crisis.
6"Heads Have Rolled for Less"Salli Richardson WhitfieldJulian FellowesFebruary 28, 2022 (2022-02-28)0.682[13]
With five people confirmed dead, George sets out to discover the cause of the train derailment, eventually learning that someone inside his company passed off substandard axles as new ones. Bertha is voted onto the board of the Red Cross, enraging Anne Morris. Peggy discovers her interview with Clara Barton has caused an increase in Globe subscriptions. Gladys and Carrie Astor bond at a party hosted by Mamie Fish, with Carrie making suggestions for Gladys' coming out ball. Marian juggles keeping Larry's prospects of finding employment as an architect secret and eliciting a Red Cross donation from Mrs. Chamberlain, who confirms the validity of the rumors surrounding her and her husband. Bertha hires van Rhijn butler Bannister to serve an English-style luncheon for Ward McAllister, greatly offending Russell family butler Church. Though Bannister lies to get out of his work, Agnes discovers the truth after receiving a note from an unknown sender. She interrupts the luncheon but leaves when confronted by the other guests. Armstrong witnesses Oscar meeting with Turner outside the Russell house and reports back to Agnes. Bertha learns a railroad employee is claiming George instructed him to use the substandard axles.
7"Irresistible Change"Michael EnglerJulian FellowesMarch 7, 2022 (2022-03-07)0.750[14]
George unveils plans for a new train station powered by electricity. Larry asks George to let him study architecture; George initially refuses but later decides to consider it. Bertha sets a date for Gladys's debutant ball. George may face charges of manslaughter for the crash. Agnes sends Marian to inform Bertha about the assumption Turner is having a sexual affair with a man, but Marian withholds Oscar's name. Bertha catches Turner flirting with Larry and quickly dismisses her. Marian keeps trying to convince Agnes that Tom will be a suitable husband but makes no progress. The city readies for Thomas Edison's electric power distribution ceremony, during which he will activate his Pearl Street generating station. Marian is left at home when Bertha chooses to instead fill out her party with Tom and Cissie Bingham (rumored illegitimate daughter of Henry Flagler). Peggy attends the event with Fortune. Edison turns on his electric lights to the amazement of all present.
8"Tucked Up in Newport"Michael EnglerJulian FellowesMarch 14, 2022 (2022-03-14)0.701[15]
George prepares for trial while Bertha plans Gladys's coming out party. Oscar travels to Newport with the Russell family to entrench his courtship of Gladys, but John Adams thwarts him out of spite. Aurora expresses her distrust of Tom, but Marian decides to accept his marriage proposal and plans to elope. Watson, George's valet, introduces himself to Mrs. Flora McNeil with the name of Collyer, who quickly leaves. Miss Armstrong intercepts a letter from Tom to Peggy, forcing Peggy to confess to the van Rhijn-Brook family that she had a stillborn son and a marriage that her father forcibly annulled. Agnes will not fire Armstrong, so Peggy resigns. Bridget finds Jack at his mother's grave, where he recounts how all his family members are dead or estranged. Through Marian, George Russell discovers his stenographer, Miss Ainsley, and George Dixon framed him for negligence, leading to a dismissal of the charges. McAllister takes Bertha to see Mrs. Astor's grand Newport home while she is out, but Mrs. Astor returns early and Bertha suffers the indignity of being rushed out the back.
9"Let the Tournament Begin"Michael EnglerJulian FellowesMarch 21, 2022 (2022-03-21)0.813[16]
Bertha calls on Mrs. Astor, but she is snubbed and uninvites Carrie to Gladys's debutante ball. Carrie, furious, gives her mother the cold shoulder. Marian readies to elope with Tom, with the help of Peggy and Sylvia. Under threat of exposure, Monsieur Baudin confesses to George that he is merely a French-trained chef from Wichita, Kansas, named Josh Borden. Despite George's protests, Bertha fires him. On the day of the elopement, Tom stands up Marian, and he now aims to marry into money. Peggy learns that her son is alive and has been adopted. She and her mother leave for Philadelphia to search for the boy. George and Bertha use every tactic to get the old money crowd to attend their ball. Mrs. Astor makes amends with Bertha by coming to the ball and getting as many of her friends as possible to attend, including the van Rhijn-Brooks. The ball is nearly derailed when Borden's replacement gets drunk, but Borden returns at a moment's notice and is rehired by George. The ball is a success, and Ada assures the broken-hearted Marian that better days will come.

Production

Development

In September 2012, The Daily Telegraph reported Julian Fellowes as saying that he was working on a spin-off prequel of Downton Abbey. Initially conceived as a book, it was then planned for pick-up by ITV. At the time, Fellowes planned to focus the show around Lord Grantham and Cora's romance and eventual marriage as the Earl and Countess of Grantham.[17]

Production and writing for The Gilded Age was updated in January 2016. Asked whether he'd written the script yet, Fellowes said, 'No I haven't, no. I'm doing that this year', before adding: 'And then hopefully shooting at the end of the year.'"[18]

On June 4, 2016, Fellowes was asked by the Los Angeles Times, "Where does The Gilded Age stand?" Fellowes replied, "It stands really with me up to my neck in research, and I'm clearing the decks, so that when I start Gilded Age, I'm only doing Gilded Age. These people were extraordinary. 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—people who are rich are rich in a way that was established in America in the 1880s, '90s, 1900s. It was different from Europe. Something like Newport would never have happened in any other country, where you have huge palaces, and then about 20 yards away, another huge palace, and 20 yards beyond that another huge palace. In England right up to the 1930s, when people made good money, they would buy an estate of 5,000 acres and they'd have to look after Nanny. The Americans of the 1880s and '90s didn't want too much of that."[19]

The final confirmation the show would be produced was announced by NBC in January 2018.[20] NBC originally announced that the show would consist of ten episodes and premiere in 2019.[20][21] About the show, Fellowes stated: "To write The Gilded Age is the fulfillment of a personal dream, 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 be the person to bring that compelling history to the screen."[22]

In May 2019, the series moved from NBC to HBO, with a straight to series order.[23] The series premiered on January 24, 2022, and consists of nine episodes.[2]

On February 14, 2022, HBO renewed the series for a second season.[3]

Casting

In September 2019, the production announced an initial cast consisting of Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Amanda Peet, and Morgan Spector.[24]

In November 2019, it was announced that Denée Benton, Louisa Jacobson, Taissa Farmiga, Blake Ritson, and Simon Jones would be joining the show.[25] In January 2020, Harry Richardson, Thomas Cocquerel, and Jack Gilpin were cast as series regulars, with Jeanne Tripplehorn cast in a recurring role.[26][27]

In April Carrie Coon was cast as Bertha Russell to replace Peet because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.[28] This caused the costuming team to change their approach, using the way Coon presents herself as inspiration for more metallic-colored dresses intended to evoke the burgeoning machine age.[29]

In January 2021, Nathan Lane joined the cast in a recurring role.[30]

In April 2022, it was announced several members of the recurring cast had been upgraded to series regular status for the second season while Cocquerel will exit the series.[31]

Filming

Following the move to HBO, the series was expected to begin filming in March 2020,[32][33] before the COVID-19 pandemic delayed production.

Filming of the series began in Newport, Rhode Island in February 2021, at the mansions Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, and The Breakers.[34] A casting call for Rhode Islanders to work as extras on the series was made in December 2020 prior to the production setting up in the city.[35]

In April 2021, filming continued at Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, NY and the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York. In May 2021, filming continued in Troy, New York in its Central Troy Historic District where multiple city blocks were transformed to resemble a Victorian era street.[36]

During filming, a horse died on set and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked for an investigation.[37] HBO subsequently issued a statement confirming the death in late June, saying, "a horse collapsed and died, likely of natural causes, according to a veterinarian’s preliminary findings."[38]

Filming is set to begin in Cohoes, NY in August, 2022.

Controversy

On May 21, 2021, the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) filed a charge for unfair labor practices against HBO and its Gilded Age production. The union claimed musicians were fired after asking they be represented by AFM.[39] Two days later HBO agreed to cover the members "on an AFM basis".[40]

Real-life events

Although The Gilded Age is a work of fiction, Julian Fellowes worked to accurately represent certain realities of the time period.[41]

Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, also known as "The" Mrs. Astor, ruled New York society in the late nineteenth century. Descending from Dutch settlers, the "knickerbocker" married relatively new money William Backhouse Astor Jr. At the time the series takes place, Astor (Donna Murphy) and her husband are largely estranged. Dismayed by the chaos caused by the end of the Civil War and the rise of new money, and armed with her own distinguished lineage and her husband's fortune, she became the gatekeeper to high society.[42] She and her associate Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane) decreed that members of respectable society must be separated by at least three generations from the origin of the family fortune, as she herself was. McAllister, Mrs Astor's right-hand man, spent years across the Atlantic absorbing culture, details of European courts, and society news. Although some recognized his devotion to preserving elegance and tradition, others saw him as an unapologetic snob.

Two characters, Bertha and George Russell (Carrie Coon and Morgan Spector), appear to be at least partly based on the formidable Alva and William K. Vanderbilt. Alva Esrkine Vanderbilt (later Alva Belmont) came from a wealthy Mobile, Alabama family that lost its money after the Civil War. Determined to regain her social status, she married a scion of the immensely wealthy Vanderbilt family in 1875. But the Vanderbilts were considered too "new money" by Caroline Astor and were largely ignored.

Determined to ascend to the upper echelons of society, Alva Vanderbilt set out to impress Caroline Astor. Among her strategies, she hired society architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a luxurious mansion on Fifth Avenue, then hosted an enormous, extravagant ball for 1,000 as a ‘house-warming’. All details of the festivities were leaked in advance to the press, and young society waited breathlessly for the upcoming ball — including Caroline Astor’s daughter, Carrie (Amy Forsyth). Caroline Astor was forced to call on Alva Vanderbilt to ensure her daughter received an invitation. The ball a success, the family was officially welcomed into New York high society.

If Bertha Russel is modeled on Alva Vanderbilt, her husband, George Russell, bears little similarity to his counterpart, William K. Vanderbilt. He seems to be inspired by Vanderbilt only on the basis of wealth and marriage to an Alva-like wife.

Other historical figures who appear in the series include Clara Barton (Linda Emond), founder of the American Red Cross, and T. Thomas Fortune (Sullivan Jones), a man born into slavery who would become one of the leading Black journalists of his day. In his editorials, he wrote passionately about civil rights and denounced racial segregation and discrimination. He also helped found a predecessor to the NAACP, the Afro-American League.[43]

Reception

Critical response

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (January 2022)

At review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds a "Certified Fresh" 80% approval rating based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 7.0/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Julian Fellowes' brand of upstairs, downstairs intrigue makes a seamless transatlantic transition in The Gilded Age, with an outstanding cast making the travails of the rich a compelling watch".[44] At Metacritic, the series has a score of 68 out of 100, based on 38 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[45]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
2022
Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards Best Cable Network Series, Drama The Gilded Age Nominated [46]
Best Writing in a Broadcast Network or Cable Series, Drama Julian Fellowes (for "Face the Music") Nominated
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More) Bob Shaw, Larry Brown, Laura Ballinger Gardner,
and Regina Graves (for "Never the New")
Won [47]
Set Decorators Society of America Awards Best Achievement in Décor/Design of a One Hour Period Series Regina Graves and Bob Shaw Nominated [48]

Ratings

Viewership and ratings per episode of The Gilded Age
No. Title Air date Rating
(18–49)
Viewers
(millions)
DVR
(18–49)
DVR viewers
(millions)
Total
(18–49)
Total viewers
(millions)
1 "Never the New" January 24, 2022 0.03 0.463[8] TBD TBD TBD TBD
2 "Money Isn't Everything" January 31, 2022 0.04 0.598[9] TBD TBD TBD TBD
3 "Face the Music" February 7, 2022 0.06 0.542[10] TBD TBD TBD TBD
4 "A Long Ladder" February 14, 2022 0.05 0.604[11] TBD TBD TBD TBD
5 "Charity Has Two Functions" February 21, 2022 0.06 0.631[12] TBD TBD TBD TBD
6 "Heads Have Rolled for Less" February 28, 2022 0.05 0.682[13] TBD TBD TBD TBD
7 "Irresistible Change" March 7, 2022 0.05 0.750[14] TBD TBD TBD TBD
8 "Tucked Up in Newport" March 14, 2022 0.02 0.701[15] TBD TBD TBD TBD
9 "Let the Tournament Begin" March 21, 2022 0.07 0.813[16] TBD TBD TBD TBD

References

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