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 titular era, 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. The series premiered on January 24, 2022. In February 2022, the series was renewed for a second season, which premiered on October 29, 2023. The series has received mostly positive reviews, with particular praise for the costumes, cast and performances of lead actors Carrie Coon, Morgan Spector, Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski.
The series follows a young woman entering 1882 New York City's rigid social scene who is drawn into the daily conflicts surrounding the new money Russell family and the old money van Rhijn-Brook family. The two are neighbors across 61st Street near Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The series also shows conflicts faced by the upper and upper middle classes, the African-American upper class, and the domestic workers who tend to all of their needs.
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.
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.'"
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."
The final confirmation the show would be produced was announced by NBC in January 2018. NBC originally announced that the show would consist of ten episodes and premiere in 2019. 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."
In May 2019, the series moved from NBC to HBO, with a straight to series order. The series premiered on January 24, 2022, and consists of nine episodes.
On February 14, 2022, HBO renewed the series for a second season.
In September 2019, the production announced an initial cast consisting of Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Amanda Peet, and Morgan Spector.
In November 2019, it was announced that Denée Benton, Louisa Jacobson, Taissa Farmiga, Blake Ritson, and Simon Jones would be joining the show. In January 2020, Harry Richardson, Thomas Cocquerel, and Jack Gilpin were cast as series regulars, with Jeanne Tripplehorn cast in a recurring role.
In April, Carrie Coon was cast as Bertha Russell to replace Peet because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
In January 2021, Nathan Lane joined the cast in a recurring role.
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.
Following the move to HBO, the series was expected to begin filming in March 2020, 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. 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.
In April 2021, filming continued at the Lyndhurst mansion in Tarrytown, New York 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.
During filming, a horse died on set and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked for an investigation. 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."
Filming for season two began in August, 2022 at various locations around White Plains, New York, including Manhattanville College's Reid Hall, which was used for various locations, including offices, a home parlor and an art gallery/museum. Reid Hall was designed by Stanford White and built in 1892 for the family of newspaper publisher and diplomat, Whitelaw Reid. Reid Castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Other New York locations included Albany, Cohoes, Troy and on Long Island, and the series also filmed in Philadelphia. Scenes set at Susan Blade's home were filmed at Kingscote in Newport.
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. Two days later HBO agreed to cover the members "on an AFM basis".
Although The Gilded Age is a work of fiction, Julian Fellowes worked to accurately represent certain realities of the time period.
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. 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 Erskine 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. In order 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’. The 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. 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.
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.
The series premiered on January 24, 2022, on HBO and HBO Max. In Australia, Paramount+ acquired the series as a "Paramount+ Exclusive", premiering on January 26, 2022. This also marks the first time a recent HBO series has skipped Foxtel in Australia, premiering on a non-Foxtel service as Foxtel has an output deal for HBO shows.
The first season was released on DVD, on July 26, 2022.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the first season holds a 79% approval rating based on 76 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. 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." At Metacritic, the season has a score of 68 out of 100, based on 38 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
On Rotten Tomatoes, the second season holds a 94% approval rating based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "More topical than before while also owning its frivolous appeal with unapologetic splendor, Julian Fellowes' operatic soap enters its own halcyon age." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 73 out of 100, based on 21 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
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