Since The Gilded Age is tied to the world of Downton Abbey, an explanation about when it takes place is critical to understanding the overarching timeline Julian Fellowes has created between his two shows. The show itself has been talked about since 2012 when Fellowes was approached to head the series based in 1880s New York. Nearly 10 years after these talks and 7 years since the Downton Abbey show ended, fans are ready to get their Fellowes period-drama fix.
The Gilded Age has been marketed as a sort of prequel to Downton Abbey, but the premise has changed over time. Set during a period of incredible economic growth in United States history, the timeline of the series will certainly set up an interesting foundation that provides deeper context for Downton Abbey. Yet while there is a strong connection between the two series, changes to The Gilded Age’s plot line suggest that the show may be trying to prove that it can stand on its own as a riveting period-drama, just like its predecessor.
The Gilded Age takes place in 1880s New York and exists in the same world as Downton Abbey. While originally the show was meant to portray the courtship of Downton Abbey’s Robert Crawley and Cora Levinson, The Gilded Age appears to be more about the clashing of old versus new money. One storyline viewers seemed to be the most interested in involved the background of the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), yet the younger version of her character appears to be notably absent from the new series.
The Downton Abbey series starts the day after the sinking of the HMS Titanic in April 1912, and tells the story of how the Crawley family navigates the changing times of the early twentieth century, and ends in the year 1926. The majority of the show is set in Yorkshire County in England on the Downton Abbey estate, though there are a few ventures the characters take to London and other parts throughout the United Kingdom. The Gilded Age takes place during the 1880s in New York, and since Cora (Levinson) Crawley was brought to London in 1888 for her first social season, this means she would likely still be in the United States at this time.
The character list for The Gilded Age has very few names that are recognizable from the Downton Abbey series. Originally, the series was going to feature the courtship between Lord and Lady Grantham, and perhaps even a young Dowager Countess. But those plot lines have been seemingly abandoned and replaced with the storylines of peripheral characters from Downton Abbey. The Astors will make an appearance, members of which were referenced in Downton Abbey, season 1, episode 1 that had been on the RMS Titanic. The other connection is to that of the Russell family, which used to own Haxby Park, which Richard Carlisle later bought in Downton Abbey, season 2. However, at this time, it’s hard to say whether the Astors and Russells in The Gilded Age are the same ones referenced in Downton Abbey.
The Gilded Age appears to be set up in a way that will provide fresh stories with new and interesting characters and plot lines. While the show has turned out to be a little different from what the original plan was, this is an exciting opportunity to draw in lesser-known characters from Downton Abbey. While The Gilded Age takes place within the same timeline as Downton Abbey, the new show from Julian Fellowes appears to be expanding the world in which the two period-dramas exist in ways fans hadn’t originally expected.