The Gilded Age: first episode review

The Gilded Age is an HBO drama co-written by Julian Fellowes and Sonja Warfield. Warfield was a story editor on Will & Grace, and writer on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. I can’t think of two more suitable shows for a co-writer of The Gilded Age. This new HBO drama focuses on the battling high society ladies of 1880s New York. Princesses of Power in bustles, I suppose we could say.

Fellowes, of course, is the genius behind Downton Abbey and other hits including Gosford Park and Belgravia. I’m a Downton fan and immediately recognised Fellowes’s style in the first episode of The Gilded Age. The show has all the same ingredients. It’s about rich people, their servants, and how everyone navigates through or around the social rules of the day. In episode one the battle lines are drawn between the ladies of Old New York society, with their roots in the 17th century, and the wealthy nouveau riche. The new arrivals want a level of social acceptance that the ladies of the old guard aren’t prepared to give.

In case you were worried, The Gilded Age isn’t a British story transferred to the edge of Central Park. We’re left in no doubt that this is an American tale. As Julian Fellowes explains in this interview, he was keen to make sure the drama included black characters and reflected the issues they would’ve faced only 14 years after the Civil War. Episode one introduces Peggy Scott, a young black writer played by Denée Benton. The story not only shows discrimination against Peggy, but also how well-meaning white characters are oblivious to it.

I’ve no doubt that Downton fans will love The Gilded Age. I’m sure the show will also appeal to viewer who enjoy rich people in New York dramas such as Gossip Girl (the original, not that new-fangled thing).

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