The Gilded Age: what is the new Downton Abbey worth? (critical)

The Gilded Age
HBO

It’s sumptuous. It’s intriguing. But it still leaves the impression that Julian Fellowes was content to duplicate his sumptuous English series in the New York of 1880…

Between modernity and classicism, Downton Abbey revolutionized period drama and made Julian Fellowes a part of television history. His arrival on HBO for The Gilded Age (which will start in France next Tuesday on OCS) had something to dream about. She leaves you wondering.

This time, the screenwriter crosses the Atlantic and takes us to a bustling metropolis. At the end of the Civil War, America experienced a period of spectacular prosperity. At the center of everything, the city of New York is in the throes of upheaval, between traditions of the past and the breath of modernity. Wealthy machine-age self-made men flaunt their riches on the Upper East Side, much to the chagrin of the local high society, an old guard that has wielded power in Manhattan since the city swamped. calls New Amsterdam. A country girl, orphaned after the death of her father, Marian invites herself into this basket of crabs by moving in with her aunt, the socialite widow Agnes van Rhijn. Incarnation of this assumed xenophobia, Agnes witnesses, devastated, the construction of a new “palace” in front of her home. The railroad tycoon, George Russell, a millionaire who started from nothing, will now be his neighbor, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 61st Street. His ambitious wife Bertha hopes to make her mark in the gratin. But she doesn’t know yet how dry it is…

It took almost six years for Julian Fellowes to complete his New York epic. And we understand from the first minutes that the production at HBO took particular care to reconstruct the era. The New York of the end of the 19th century is painted there with dazzling meticulousness. From grandiose sets to breathtaking costumes, The Gilded Age is a series with incandescent gilding. A veneer so flashy it almost camouflages the futility of what lies beneath. Because it must be admitted, after three or four hours of walking around this pretty upscale neighborhood of the Big Apple, the emptiness of the content is rather disconcerting. Fellowes entertains without enlightening and struggles to transcribe the power struggles and social contests of the time, both oversized and elusive for the viewer of the 21st Century. These stakes seem so futile that it becomes unlikely to ignite for these little identifiable characters. An infinite and oppressive gallery, which is presented to us during a first XXL episode: very clever whoever can say – after 1h20 – who is whose butler…

The Gilded Age
HBO

Certainly, The Gilded Age does not lack ambition, but does not quite manage to put it at the service of the narration. Not very inspired, she is often content to recycle the archetypes of Downton Abbey. We even have this funny feeling that Julian Fellowes has simply transposed his Crawley family to the other side of the Atlantic. We find the same springs, the same intrigues, the same romances, but in the Manhattan of 1880. While Bridgerton Where The Great have been able to breathe new life into the “period drama” in recent years, The Gilded Age is too anchored in its certainties.

Inflating, but not prohibitive! Because the aesthetics of the series can, on its own, save the furniture. And the cast is so powerful that it will succeed – before the end of season 1 – in catching up with us by the Top Hat. The bewitching Carrie Coon, the ferocious Christine Baranski, the touching Cynthia Nixon, the refreshing Taissa Farmiga and the surprising Louisa Jacobson (the youngest of Meryl Streep) form an army of heroines with infinite potential, which Julian Fellowes will undoubtedly succeed to shine. And it is at this moment that we remember that it had taken some time to Downton Abbey to take its place.

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