The Gilded Age is being described as the next Downton Abbey. Is it any good?


Fans of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, your next binge-watch show is here.

It’s been described as “Sex and the City goes Victorian” and an American version of Downton.

IN THE VIDEO ABOVE: Downton Abbey start Michelle Dockery gets engaged

But is it any good?

Of course, the moment Downton Abbey became a hit stateside, some type of Americanised version felt inevitable.

The Gilded Age isn’t telling a tremendously new story, but it is a very well-done piece of prestige, period piece escapism.

And it should also help cement the welcome trend of telling more diverse stories in historical dramas.

The Gilded Age starts in the year 1882 and follows a young woman, Marian Brook, who moves from Pennsylvania to New York City to live with her well-off aunties.

The show, 10 years in the making, was originally designed as a New York City-set prequel centered on the coming-of-age of the beloved Duchess Cora Crawley, played by Elizabeth McGovern in Downton.

But during the series’ decade-long journey to production, its identity as a direct Downton prequel disappeared.

In its final form, the show borrows from several storytelling classics, including Romeo and Juliet.

Two warring families live directly across from Central Park, at the corner of 5th Avenue and 61st Street.

Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski certainly draw attention in The Gilded Age.
Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski certainly draw attention in The Gilded Age. Credit: HBO via NBC Today

Despite their hatred of each other, each family has sons and daughters of the right age and with varying levels of attraction to each other.

On one side of the block sits the longtime home of the van Rhijn family, currently owned by the widowed Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski), who endured decades of an abusive marriage to earn her family’s spot in old-money New York.

Her spinster sister Ada Brook (Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon) is Agnes’ constant companion and her son Oscar (Blake Ritson) plays the part publicly while living a closeted life downtown.

As the series starts, they take in their poverty-stricken niece Marian (Louisa Jacobson), whose father’s gambling problem necessitated Agnes’ family-fortune-saving marriage (and ensuing marital sacrifice).

Watch the official trailer in the video below

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On the other side of the block, the new money, newcomer Russells have just finished building their ultramodern palace of a home.

Husband George (Morgan Spector) is a railroad builder and wannabe monopolist, wife Bertha (Carrie Coon) is a social striver who pushed the family to relocate from downtown.

Baby scions son Larry (Harry Richardson) and daughter Gladys (Taissa Farmiga) remain mostly unaware of how ferociously their parents are working to create a space for them in the upper echelons.

It’s an age-old plot, but The Gilded Age arrives with a racial and social awareness its Downton Abbey forebears did not.

The indomitable Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), seen here in the original ‘Downton Abbey’ television series.
The indomitable Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), seen here in the original ‘Downton Abbey’ television series. Credit: Nick Briggs

This awareness is part of a longer-term trend toward colour consciousness adopted with varying levels of success by shows such as Sanditon.

The time it took to make The Gilded Age may ultimately be a blessing.

The show keeps all the familiar tropes of bustling servants, call bells, sweeping vistas of gorgeous houses, and a costume closet to die for.

Baranski brings all the ferociousness of Maggie Smith’s famed Dowager Countess to her role as Agnes, and when she and Coon’s Bertha Russell finally meet, the verbal fireworks are worth the build-up.

The Gilded Age is now available to stream in Australia on Paramount+.

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