Gilded Not Golden
There is something about that specific era that touched the whole world. When the world became what we call modern (meaning: industrialized, mass production orientated) all of a sudden there were people who became rich by their own merit. And the richer they became the more they wanted to adjust with those who were rich by provenance. At least in America, where until today the myth of "you-can-make-it-here" survives even though the truth is: if you are born into a certain class there is a 95% percent chance you remain there.
In many ways The "Gilded Age" at the end of the nineteenth century reminds me a lot of the Eighties of the Twentieth century: When looking rich became the most important attitude - everything had to be pimped and (sic!) gilded.
Now there is a TV show at HBO that deals with that period, written by Julian Fellowes of "Downton Abbey" fame.
“To write ‘The Gilded Age’ is the fulfillment of a personal dream,” Fellowes said. “I have been fascinated by this period of American history for many years and now NBC has given me the chance to bring it to a modern audience. I could not be more excited and thrilled. The truth is, America is a wonderful country with a rich and varied history, and nothing could give me more pleasure than be the person to bring that compelling history to the screen.”
Here is the network’s official description of the series: The Gilded Age in 1880s New York City was a period of immense social upheaval, of huge fortunes made and lost, and of palaces that spanned the length of Fifth Avenue.
In the series, Marian Brook (played by another talented Meryl-Streep-daughter Louisa Jacobson) is the wide-eyed young scion of a conservative family who will embark on infiltrating the wealthy neighboring family dominated by ruthless railroad tycoon George Russell, his rakish and available son Larry, and his ambitious wife Bertha, whose “new money” is a barrier to acceptance by the Astor and Vanderbilt set. Marian is about to experience a whole new world springing up right outside her front door.
I have to say so far (first episode ran last Sunday) I am not that convinced. Maybe, it is because the "Downton Abbey" still exists in reality, like, that kind of house, that kind of village - it helps when it is no fake to make you believe in it has the right to exist.
Also: the actors were fitting so much better. Christine Baranski is definitly no Maggie Smith and as hard as Cyntia Nixon tries to speak as if sprung out of a Henry-James-novel you still don´t buy it. The characters are not that multi-layered, mostly even hard to put - is that a mother or her daughter?
Maybe that is intended, I mean, we are in America here, the country that invented all kinds of fake, from perfect movies to horrible politics.
Maybe this show only reflects on why we Europeans still watch with curiosity and doubt what those people overthere do.
Maybe there is only a narrow degree between gilded and guilty.