The Gilded Age
What’s it about?
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 Union general, who moves into the New York City home of her thoroughly old money aunts Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook. Accompanied by Peggy Scott, an accomplished African-American woman, Marian inadvertently becomes enmeshed in a social war between one of her aunts, a scion of the old money set, and her stupendously rich neighbors, a ruthless railroad tycoon and his ambitious wife, George and Bertha Russell.
In this exciting new world that is on the brink of the modern age, will Marian follow the established rules of society, or forge her own path?
Who’s starring in it?
Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), Carrie Coon (The Leftovers), Morgan Spector (Boardwalk Empire), Denée Benton, Louisa Jacobson, Taissa Farmiga, Blake Ritson, Simon Jones, Harry Richardson, Thomas Cocquerel, Jack Gilpin and Jeanne Tripplehorn (Big Love) have all signed on.
Who will they play?
Christine Baranski as Agnes van Rhijn, a proud and stubborn aristocrat who will never accept that the world has changed, and that ancient values are being replaced by new ones. She found herself penniless as her parents’ fortune was foundering, but she managed to catch a husband just in time. Now a widow, Agnes still has her son Oscar, whom she worships, but her worship is not returned.
Cynthia Nixon as Ada Brook, who unlike her sister, never found a husband, and was forced to rely on Agnes’ charity. She is not naturally confrontational, but she is capable of standing up for what she believes.
Carrie Coon as Bertha Russell. Bertha comes from the ordinary middle-class. She backed her instincts when she set out to catch her husband George, the son of a merchant family who has proved to be a financial genius. She is determined to use her money and position to break into a society that resists change at every turn.
Morgan Spector as George Russell, a classic robber baron of his own time. Russell is pleasant enough in company, fond of his wife and his children, but utterly ruthless in business. He has already acquired millions, and many more will follow. In every challenge, George must win.
Denée Benton as Peggy Scott. Peggy is a young, ambitious writer. She was raised in New York and educated at the prestigious Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. We meet Peggy at a crossroads. She’s haunted by her past and lingering questions that’s she unable to find answers to, so she chooses to leave Pennsylvania and return home. She meets Marian at the train station, and both women who are seeking a fresh start form an unlikely friendship as they begin this next chapter of their lives in New York, but Peggy’s secret will eventually be revealed causing a tectonic shift in her world.
Louisa Jacobson as Marian Brook, the show's principal heroine. Lovely and strong, she was born to an old Pennsylvania family, but her father has left her without a penny. In one way, Marian knows that her probable fate will be to marry as well as she can and survive, but she wants more than this. She is curtailed by the rules of her time, but there is a modern streak in her, too. She wants to do something with her life, she wants to be fulfilled. Marian moves from Doylestown to New York City after her father dies to live with her estranged aunts, Agnes van Rhijn and Ada Brook.
Taissa Farmiga as Gladys Russell, a classic, innocent and lovely child of the rich who doesn't want a governess or for her mother to treat her as a child anymore, she wants to be out in society meeting suitable young men. She doesn’t really know how her father made his money, and she doesn’t much care, but she is used to it and wouldn’t know what to do without it. She has an independent streak, but her petulance is no match for her mother, Bertha, who uses her as a tool for her own ambition and forces Marian toward socially advantageous situations.
Blake Ritson as Oscar van Rhijn, Agnes van Rhijn’s charismatic son. He's decided it's time to settle down and has become obsessed with money while on the lookout for a serious heiress who will allow him to live, as he would put it, properly. Smart, attractive, poised, charming and mischievous, he enjoys witty banter. He is one of the few who will stand up to his mother and will not listen to her advice, which causes her a good deal of frustration.
Simon Jones as Bannister. As an English immigrant and son of a poor cobbler from the English midlands, the van Rhijn’s butler likes to give the impression that he is immensely grand. He grew up the hard way, learning how to speak, how to dress, how to behave, and changing jobs each time he felt he was ready for the next step. He joined the van Rhijn household a year before the death of Mr. van Rhijn and so, for the old lady, he is a link with her own past.
Harry Richardson as Larry Russell, a recent Harvard University graduate who is appealing and good natured with an easy charm. Larry is eager to make his way in the world. Above all, Larry is his mother's child, her Achilles' heel, the one person she loves without limit and he loves her as well. He is protective of his little sister, Gladys, and like her he is a classic child of the rich. He thinks he doesn't care about money, because he has always had plenty of it.
Thomas Cocquerel as Tom Raikes, a sensible young lawyer from Doylestown, PA. He’s been a solitary and career-driven practical man but is smitten when he meets Marian, his late client’s orphaned daughter. He relocates to New York City in pursuit of a relationship with her. Tom understands that Marian’s aunts are very conservative and he’s careful not to overstep any boundaries along the way. He’ll put up a fight to get what he wants, but he’s an appealing, charming gentleman above all else.
Jack Gilpin as Church, the Russell family’s butler. He is American, from a dismal background, but evades his past by excelling at his job. He has no time for nonsense in the workplace due to his attention and care for his job. Above all, he’s Bertha’s ally and he intends to stay reasonably true to her every step of the way, unlike her own maid.
Jeanne Tripplehorn as Sylvia Chamberlain, a tall and beautiful enigmatic figure. A genuine expert in the creative arts and a great art collector, she is almost entirely excluded from high society because of her suspected past until Marian shows her kindness.
Audra McDonald as Dorothy Scott. She is a devoted wife, mother and accomplished pianist, but her life is unsettled because her family is in turmoil. She and her husband Arthur are estranged from their daughter Peggy. Dorothy’s fervent desire is to reunite with her only child and put the past behind them. However, she soon makes a shocking discovery that disrupts and jeopardizes any hope of family reconciliation.
Kelli O’Hara as Aurora Fane – Aurora Fane is Agnes van Rhijn’s niece by marriage and takes Marian under her wing when Marian makes her entrance into New York society. Aurora is naturally elegant, likeable, honest, loyal — but above all, Aurora is aware of the social game she must play to maintain her place amongst the upper class.
Donna Murphy as Mrs. Astor. Imperious and commanding, Mrs. Astor is the most prominent American socialite of the time. As the chief gatekeeper standing in the way of the Russell family's acceptance into New York society, Mrs. Astor’s approval is something that Bertha Russell is willing to achieve at any cost.
Michael Cerveris as Watson. Though George Russell’s valet is as steadfast as he is stoic, in private moments a mysterious past, and fall from grace, is suggested. However, this does not keep him from expressing an optimistic attitude about the Russell family and their potential for success in New York Society.
Debra Monk as Armstrong. As Mrs. van Rhijn’s maid, Armstrong enjoys an elevated position amongst the staff of the Brook House. Armstrong’s deep social biases, coupled with her need to be on the inside of every secret, promises to get her into trouble. Unfortunately, her private life is already fraught with trouble…
Katie Finneran as Anne Morris, the haughty and unforgiving wife of city alderman Patrick Morris. She’s established her place in this small circle of wealthy women and is determined to keep that circle closed to new money interlopers.
Celia Keenan-Bolger as Mrs. Bruce, the Russell’s new housekeeper. Mrs. Bruce comes highly recommended — but not without something to prove. As a senior member of the house, she has been tasked with assisting Bertha with hosting social events worthy of New York elite.
Kristine Nielsen as Mrs. Bauer. A German immigrant, Mrs. Bauer has found her career as a cook for Mrs. van Rhijn. Blessed with maternal instincts that stretch beyond the kitchen, she acts as a mother figure to the younger members of the Brook House staff, especially young Bridget.
John Douglas Thompson as Arthur Scott, a formerly enslaved man who left the south for a better life in New York. He studied to become a pharmacist and runs his own successful business. Arthur is a protective, stern, patriarch who is at odds with his daughter and her life choices. He, too, seeks family unity, but Peggy’s secret proves to be an insurmountable obstacle to that end.
Patrick Page as Richard Clay. As George Russell’s loyal secretary, Clay is charged with running the railway tycoon’s booming business. Efficient and savvy, Clay is as quick with an intelligent solution as a sly workaround, and George uses the full extent of Clay’s unique skills in the pursuit of financial security.
Douglas Sills as Baudin, the stylish, particular, and sometimes hysterical chef of the Russell house. To Bertha, having a French chef is the height of chic, and his employment is considered a feather in her social cap.
Amy Forsyth as Caroline “Carrie” Astor. She is the handsome daughter of one of the most powerful women in New York City and her mother’s status often disrupts the ease with which Carrie would prefer to live her life as one of the most popular young women in town.
Taylor Richardson as Bridget, a combined housemaid, kitchen maid, and lady’s maid in the Brook house. She’s a decent and hard-working immigrant girl from Ireland who has come to America to build a new future, though she has low expectations of life because of a troubled and abusive past.
Kelley Curran as Turner. She is Bertha’s ambitious American lady’s maid, who, though grudgingly accepting of her position in the Russell house, does not intend to be a servant all her days. Her loyalty is skin deep and she is always looking for a way out.
Ben Ahlers as Jack Treacher, a footman/hall boy/jack of all trades in the Brook house. A perfect footman in those days would be 5’10” or taller, as height was desirable, although Jack would not be considered the perfect anything. He does whatever jobs no one else wants to do and doesn’t complain.
Nathan Lane as Ward McAllister, Mrs. Astor’s confidant and the gatekeeper of her social circle.
Who’s behind the camera?
Julian Fellowes — best known for creating, writing and executive-producing the award-winning Downton Abbey — is the creator, writer and executive producer on the series. Gareth Neame will executive produce; Michael Engler and Salli Richardson-Whitfield will both direct and executive produce; David Crockett will executive produce; Sonja Warfield will write and co-executive produce. Gilded Age is a co-production between HBO and Universal Television.
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