‘The Gilded Age’: Does ‘Downton Abbey’ Exist in the Same Universe as the HBO Series?
HBO’s The Gilded Age is the latest TV project from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. The period drama is set in late 19th-century New York and focuses on the conflict between the city’s old-money elite and the wealthy, ambitious new arrivals who threaten to upend the established social order.
With its lavish costumes, upstairs-downstairs drama, and dramatic interiors, The Gilded Age certainly seems like a close cousin of Downton. But could the two shows be connected in a deeper way?
The ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘The Gilded Age’ timelines, explained
The Gilded Age opens in 1882. That’s three decades before Downtown Abbey kicks off, when the Crawley family’s future is thrown into doubt after the heir to the estate died during the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912.
The 30-year gap means we’re definitely not going to see Lady Mary, Sybil, Edith, or any of Downton’s younger characters pop up in The Gilded Age. They wouldn’t have yet been born at the time the second show takes place. However, the show’s older characters, including the Earl and Countess of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) and the Earl’s mother Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), are another story.
Cora is American and would have been a teenager around the time The Gilded Age is set. It’s conceivable her character could appear. Robert and his mother were living in England, but there’s a chance they visited New York and interacted with some of the show’s characters.
‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘The Gilded Age’ aren’t in the same universe
In theory, it’s possible for The Gilded Age and Downton Abbey to intersect. But so far, it doesn’t appear that they actually will (even though The Gilded Age was originally envisioned as a Downton Abbey prequel, according to the New York Times.) Gareth Neame, an executive producer on both series, clarified the relationship between Downton and The Gilded Age in an interview with TVLine.
“[A crossover is] not in the thinking at all,” he said. “It’s a separate universe … Downton Abbey, in its own fiction, was definitely there. A younger version of the Maggie Smith character would be living there, I guess. But it’s not really planned.”
Neame didn’t write off the idea of a crossover entirely, saying that he could see executives suggesting “a Gilded meets Downton mashup” in the future. However, nothing is in the works at the moment, he said.
How a young Cora Crawley could appear in the HBO series
If there were a Downton Abbey-The Gilded Age crossover, the most obvious point of connection would be Cora.
In Downton Abbey, viewers learn that Cora Crawley (then Cora Levinson) arrived in the U.K. with her mother in 1888. Cora’s a wealthy American heiress, and her mother (played by Shirley Maclaine in later seasons of the show), wants her to marry into the English aristocracy. She meets Robert Crawley, who has an impressive title but a less-impressive fortune. Marrying Cora will give him the financial stability he needs to maintain his family’s vast estate. Meanwhile, she becomes a Countess, gaining the impressive title her mother was after.
Cora’s story is loosely modeled on the real-life experiences of a number of well-off American women who married into the English upper classes in the late 19th and early 20th century, such as Consuelo Vanderbilt, The Tatler. The Vanderbilts share some characteristics with the fictional Russell family on the HBO series. And while Cora is originally from Ohio, her family has ties to Newport and New York City. A much younger version of her character could conceivably make an appearance in The Gilded Age. However, so far, that hasn’t happened – and there’s no guarantee it ever will.
The Gilded Age airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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