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‘Spectacular!’: The Gilded Age racks up rave reviews

The Gilded Age premiered on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday and viewers were left raving about Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ new show.

One elated fan took to Twitter to declare it ‘a 19th century Gossip Girl’, while another branded the show – which explores the lives of American aristocrats in the 1880s – ‘spectacular’.

The Gilded Age boasts an all-star cast including Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Coon, Taissa Farmiga and Meryl Streep’s daughter Louisa Jacobson, so it’s no wonder viewers’ reactions have been so ecstatic.

Rave reviews: The Gilded Age premiered on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday and viewers were left raving about Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes’ new show (pictured: Christine Baranski and Carrie Coon in promo imagery)

After just one episode of the new series, which is set in New York during a period of huge economic change, one social media user gushed: ‘The Gilded Age is SO good!’

Another added: ‘Well The Gilded Age was a feast,’ with a third echoing: ‘Absolutely loved the first episode of The Gilded Age.’

A fourth wrote: ‘The Gilded Age is good. I’ll be back next week.’

‘I really liked the Gilded Age,’ added a fifth while a sixth exclaimed: ‘The Gilded Age is SPECTACULAR. That is all.’

Wow: The Gilded Age boasts an all-star cast including Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Coon, Taissa Farmiga and Meryl Streep's daughter Louisa Jacobson (pictured: Christine and Cynthia Nixon in promo imagery)

Wow: The Gilded Age boasts an all-star cast including Cynthia Nixon, Carrie Coon, Taissa Farmiga and Meryl Streep’s daughter Louisa Jacobson (pictured: Christine and Cynthia Nixon in promo imagery)

Another fan declared that they were ‘so in love’ with the show and a seventh noted: ‘The Gilded Age is sooooooo good. I’ve been craving this for a while now, ever since Downton Abbey ended.’

Other comments included: ‘I really enjoyed the first episode of The Gilded Age’, and ‘The Gilded Age is dreamy so far!’

The series tells the story of aspiring writer Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) who moves from Pennsylvania to New York to live with her wealthy aunts Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon).

Loving it: After just one episode of the new series, which is set in New York during a period of huge economic change, one social media user gushed: 'The Gilded Age is SO good!'

Loving it: After just one episode of the new series, which is set in New York during a period of huge economic change, one social media user gushed: ‘The Gilded Age is SO good!’

Peggy Scott (Denée Benton) and Marian become embroiled in a social war involving one of her aunts and her railroad tycoon neighbour George (Morgan Spector) and his wife Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon).

Ahead of the show’s launch, Sky bosses teased: ‘Exposed to a world on the brink of the modern age, will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path?’

Fellowes’ latest endeavour is years in the making after he began working on a Downton Abbey spin-off in September 2012.

THE GILDED AGE: WHO’S WHO? 

Christine Baranski as Agnes van Rhijn

A-lister Christine Baranski – who has previously been seen in Mamma Mia!, Chicago and The Big Bang Theory – plays old fashioned socialite Agnes.

Agnes is a high society woman who spends a large part of her day making her secretary write letters by dictating to her.

Her character’s behaviour rings true to the era, as Agnes is intent on keeping age old traditions which have been passed down through her family. 

Cynthia Nixon as Ada Brook 

Cynthia Nixon – who is known for her role as Miranda Hobbs in Sex And The City and And Just Like That… – takes on the role of Agnes’ sister Ada.

Ada’s driving force is ensuring that her nieces follow her path and the same gendered ideals which she herself has learned.

The conflict paints the picture of the differing approaches which emerged during the golden age in America between generations.

High society women were becoming more able to fulfill their ambitions.  

Carrie Coon as Bertha Russell

Carrie Coon – who has been seen previously in HBO series The Leftovers – plays Bertha, a wealthy social climber.

Bertha is desperate to dispute the rigid upper class coventions which restrict newcomers from entering New York society.

Bertha, along with her husband George, is uthless, ambitious, and relentless in her pursuit of wealth and power. 

Morgan Spector as George Russell

Morgan Spector – who is best known for main roles in Allegiance, The Mist and The Plot Against America – takes on the role of Bertha’s husband George.

George is a ‘new money’ robber baron who is keen to establish himself as a railroad tycoon and one of the richest men in New York.  

Denée Benton as Peggy Scott 

Denée Benton – who previously starred as Eliza Hamilton in Broadway smash Hamilton – plays up-and-coming young writer Peggy.

Peggy becomes useful to society high flyer Agnes, as she works for her as a writer to send letters to other members of society.  

 Louisa Jacobson as Mariana Brooke

Meryl Streep’s daughter Louisa Jacobson makes her TV debut as the destitute Mariana.

Marina begins the first episode by re-acquainting herself with her estranged aunts, Agnes and Ada.  

While this marks Louisa’s first TV appearance, she has previously acted on stage in a 2019 production of Romeo and Juliet. 

Teaser: Ahead of the show's launch, Sky bosses teased: 'Exposed to a world on the brink of the modern age, will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path?'

Teaser: Ahead of the show’s launch, Sky bosses teased: ‘Exposed to a world on the brink of the modern age, will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path?’

The writer told RadioTimes.com in January 2016 the he was ‘hopefully shooting at the end of the year’ despite not having written the script just yet.

The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age is a term used to describe the prosperous years in American history post Civil War.

Unprecedented growth in technology and industrial activity gave way to greed and corruption.

Wealthy tycoons, bankers and politicians created extraordinary wealth at the expense of the working class. 

The elite grew rich through the monopolies they created in the steel, petroleum, and transportation industries, according to Britannica.

Notable tycoons included John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Leland Stanford and J.P.Morgan. 

When asked about the status of the show in June 2016, Fellowes admitted he was ‘up to my neck in research’ creating the character.

‘These people were extraordinary. You can see why they frightened the old guard, because they saw no boundaries,’ he told The Los Angeles Times. 

‘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.’

Fellowes noted that The Gilded Age was ‘the fulfilment of a personal dream’ after final confirmation the show would be on NBC in January 2018.

HBO acquired the series more than one year later and ordered a straight to series with production announced in September 2019.

The pandemic set back filming by a year, with cameras finally rolling in February 2021.

Set backs: The pandemic set back filming by a year, with cameras finally rolling in February 2021

Set backs: The pandemic set back filming by a year, with cameras finally rolling in February 2021

In the US Downton, the worst snobs are the servants: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews Julian Fellowes’s latest costume drama The Gilded Age

THE GILDED AGE

Sky Atlantic, last night 

Rating:

Railroad tycoon George Russell has his feet up on the furniture. ‘Careful,’ warns his wife, ‘that table belonged to King Ludwig of Bavaria.’ 

George flashes a devil-may-care grin. ‘He had it once. I’ve got it now!’ he crows.

You can trust Julian Fellowes never to leave us in doubt about his intentions. 

The creator of Downton Abbey has returned with an even more lavish costume drama in The Gilded Age (Sky Atlantic) – and it’s all about New Money.

The creator of Downton Abbey has returned with an even more lavish costume drama in The Gilded Age. Pictured: Sisters Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski in The Gilded Age

The creator of Downton Abbey has returned with an even more lavish costume drama in The Gilded Age. Pictured: Sisters Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski in The Gilded Age

Set in New York, 1882, the overblown wealth was on display from the opening shot. 

Horse-drawn carts loaded with statues, chandeliers, antiques and grand pianos rolled up Fifth Avenue to the mansion commissioned by George and his ambitious wife Bertha (Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon).

But across the road, Old Money is in residence. Spiteful widow Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and her fluffy-headed younger sister Ada (Cynthia Nixon) are surrounded by footmen and butlers – and the servants are even bigger snobs than the ladies.

The budget for The Gilded Age is a well-guarded secret, but to judge from the spectacular computer graphics that recreate New York 140 years ago, this production would make a hole in any family fortune.

Fans of Downton will be hoping for complicated romantic entanglements, and, of course, Cupid is hovering. 

The sisters have taken in their penniless niece Marian, Louisa Jacobson. Marian brings her new best friend to stay – the young black writer Peggy, Denee Benton (both pictured)

The sisters have taken in their penniless niece Marian, Louisa Jacobson. Marian brings her new best friend to stay – the young black writer Peggy, Denee Benton (both pictured)

The sisters have taken in their penniless niece Marian (Louisa Jacobson), whose no-good papa (their brother) has wasted their inheritance.

Meanwhile, the Russells’ raffish son Larry, played by Harry Richardson, is enjoying the high life – and Marian has already caught his wandering eye.

But the emphasis is on the older female characters. Bertha is a social climber who makes no secret of her desire to be a queen of the New York party world.

‘She has imagination, taste and nerve,’ boasts hubby George, whose chief job is to roll his eyes at his wife’s extravagance and sign the cheques.

At the climax of this opening double episode, Bertha threw an opulent soiree, her table piled high with lobsters spitted on swords like seafood kebabs. 

Nobody came – certainly not Agnes and Ada. ‘We only see the old people in this house, not the new,’ proclaimed Mrs van Rhijn.

How out of joint her stuck-up nose will be when she learns the shocking truth about her disreputable son Oscar, who keeps a barrel-chested blond sportsman in his apartment for frisky fun after the day’s parties are over.

Agnes is confronted in other ways by the changing times, as Marian brings her new best friend to stay – the young black writer Peggy, (Denee Benton) an aspiring novelist twice as clever as any of the other characters.

It takes Peggy all of two minutes to win Agnes over, and land a job as her live-in secretary. She has to sleep in the servants’ quarters, though, and one or two of the maids are not quite sure what to think.

Celebrities, billionaires and pots of money – this is reality TV from the steam railway era

Celebrities, billionaires and pots of money – this is reality TV from the steam railway era

Amid this rush of faces, we barely had time to get to know the below-stairs staff. Simon Jones presides over the van Rhijn residence as butler Mr Bannister, and he already has a catchphrase: ‘It is not for us to have an opinion.’

Across the street, conniving housekeeper Mrs Turner (Kelley Curran) seems to be setting her cap at Mr Russell. 

If Bertha catches wind of that, which she undoubtedly will, the saucy servant might end up speared with a lobster stick.

With so much scene setting, the story was slow to get going. It’s very different to Lord Fellowes’s last drama, Belgravia, which packed the whole of the Battle of Waterloo and a wedding into its opening sequence.

But the good lord enjoys all the fancy dress history so hugely that it is impossible not to be carried along.

‘Did you hear they shot Jesse James?’ cries Mr Russell. ‘Good evening, Mr and Mrs Roosevelt,’ calls a footman.

Celebrities, billionaires and pots of money – this is reality TV from the steam railway era.


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