Julian Fellowes’ New Drama 'The Gilded Age' Announces an All-Star Cast

Julian Fellows at a "Downton Abbey" Masterpiece event (Photo: Stephanie Berger/PBS)
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Julian Felloweslatest effort – the Downton Abbey movie – may be ruling the roost at the box office, but he’s already hard at work on his return to the small screen. Period drama Belgravia is headed to Epix later this year, and now there’s finally some solid news on his next big project: The Gilded Age.

Hyped as an American version of Downton, The Gilded Age is set to follow the story of the rich Americans of “Gilded Era” 19th century New York, the very sorts of families who would have sent daughters like Cora Levinson oft to marry landed, but financial struggled aristocrats in England.

According to Variety, the series has announced four members of its main cast, heavy hitters all. Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Amanda Peet and Morgan Spector will all be regulars on the 10-part series, which doubtless more casting news to come.  

The official synopsis describes The Gilded Age in rich, dramatic terms.

“The American Gilded Age was a period of immense economic change, of huge fortunes made and lost, and the rise of disparity between old money and new.  Against this backdrop of change, the story begins in 1882 — introducing young Marian Brook, the orphaned daughter of a Southern general, who moves into the home of her rigidly conventional aunts in New York City. Accompanied by the mysterious Peggy Scott, an African-American woman masquerading as her maid, Marian gets caught up in the dazzling lives of her stupendously rich neighbors, led by a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife struggling for acceptance by the Astor and Vanderbilt set. Will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path in this exciting new world that is on the brink of transformation into the modern age?”

We also know a bit about what sorts of characters these actors will be playing.

Baranski will take on the role of proud and stubborn aristocrat Agnes van Rhijn. A stickler for the old rules of the old world, she will never accept that things are changing as the 20th century approaches. Apparently she was once the penniless daughter of Southern plantation owners, but caught a rich husband just in time.

Will Agnes be America’s Dowager Countess? Baranski does seem the type. (I say that with all love, by the way. I adore her.) 

Nixon will play Agnes’ sister Ada who, as it turns out, did not make out so well from the collapse of the Old South, and now must live on her sibling’s charity. She is described as “not naturally confrontational” but still “capable of standing up for what she believes in.”

Peet is Bertha Russell, a Becky-Sharp-esque middle class striver who’s determined to use her husband’s ruthless mercantile business success to launch herself into the realms of a society that doesn’t want her to be part of it, and resists change at every turn.

And, finally, Spector will play Bertha’s husband George, a ruthless and successful businessman who’s made millions by taking risks and refusing to back down from a challenge. He doesn’t appear to share his wife’s interest in social climbing, but when one has that much money, doors open.

Shorter version: I’m so very here for all of this.

The series, which will launch on new streaming service HBO Max, doesn’t have a premiere date as yet. But, since we’ve been talking about The Gilded Age for the better part of the past several years this official casting announcement feels like the first real progress that will actually see this show come to fruition. (Initial rumors about this show date all the way back to 2012 if you want to get super technical about it.)

Does The Gilded Age sound like something you’d watch? Excited to see Downton’s creator take on such an American story? Let’s discuss in the comments.