All you need to know about ‘American Downton Abbey’ The Gilded Age

If you love a period drama with a touch of class, you won’t want to miss The Gilded Age, the latest offering from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.

But forget English stately piles inhabited by toffs like the Granthams – Julian has crossed the pond to America to tell this tale, set at the end of the 19th Century.

It was a time when industry and the economy were on the up, creating a wealthy elite to join the old money families of the establishment.

The story begins in 1882, when young Marian Brook, the orphaned daughter of a general, moves into the New York home of her “old money aunts”, Ada and Agnes.

And while Marian is played by newcomer Louisa Jacobson, those aunts will be familiar to viewers – as they’re played by none other than And Just Like That… star Cynthia Nixon and Mamma Mia!’s Christine Baranski.

The series proved an exciting prospect for Christine, who plays fierce grande dame Agnes van Rhijn.

“She’s really stringent, very authoritative, she’s absolutely certain that her decision is the right decision,” says the star, who filmed the series around her hit law drama The Good Fight.

“But as I played her and got to know her, I came to really like Agnes. She has a dry, withering sense of humour.”

“And she’s appalled by the change in the city. What we see emerging is rampant capitalism, people spending insane amounts of money to impress other people.”

Another draw was the chance to work with her old pal Cynthia, who found fame as Sex And The City lawyer Miranda.

Christine explained: “Cynthia and I did The Real Thing on Broadway 37 years ago, so we go way back.”

“I played her mother when she was still a student. It was a big fat hit and I won a Tony, so it was an incredibly happy experience.”

Cynthia was enthusiastic about signing up to the much-anticipated show, too.

“I loved Downton and I was aware that Christine was going to play Agnes, which was exciting,” she says.

As Ada has never married, she finds herself reliant on her sister’s charity.

“I found the character of Ada delicious,” says Cynthia. “Her humour and her sweetness. I play a lot of brave people and Ada is not that.”

“She’s an effusive, enthusiastic, heart-on-sleeve kind of person. I don’t get the chance to play that kind of character very often, but I am like that in real life.”

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Cynthia says the siblings’ relationship is summed up by a line from Marian to Agnes’s secretary, Peggy. “She says, ‘One of them is clever but not very kind. The other is kind but not very clever.’”

With Agnes at war with her new-money neighbours and the issue of racism running throughout the drama, this is no genteel look at gowns, mansions and carriages, but a thought-provoking take on wealth, greed and morals.

“As Julian says, ‘It’s The Gilded Age, not The Golden Age,’” explains Christine. “There’s no amount of gold paint that’s enough for these people.”

To keep up to date with all the best new shows on the box, sign up to our daily OK! newsletter. The Gilded Age airs Tuesday and Thursday at 9pm on Sky Atlantic

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