The Thorn Birds (TV miniseries)

The Thorn Birds (TV miniseries)


name = The Thorn Birds
caption =
director = Daryl Duke
producer =
writer = Colleen McCullough (novel)
Carmen Culver
Lee Stanley
starring = Richard Chamberlain
Rachel Ward
Barbara Stanwyck
Christopher Plummer
Jean Simmons
Bryan Brown Sydney Penny
music = Henry Mancini
cinematography = Bill Butler
editing = Robert F. Shugrue
David Saxon
Carroll Timothy O'Meara
production design =
set decoration =
costume design =
distributors =
released = 1983 (USA)
runtime = 467min.
country = USA
language = English
budget = $ ???
imdb_id =

"The Thorn Birds" is an Emmy Award-winning television mini-series broadcast on ABC between 27 and 30 March 1983. It starred Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Barbara Stanwyck, Christopher Plummer, Bryan Brown, Mare Winningham, Philip Anglim and Jean Simmons. It was directed by Daryl Duke and based on a novel by Colleen McCullough.

Set primarily on Drogheda, a fictional sheep station in the Australian outback, the story focuses on the Cleary family and spans the years 1915 to 1969.

Plot summary

Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain) is a young, capable and ambitious priest who, as punishment for insubordination, has been relegated to a remote parish in the town of Gillanbone, Australia. Ralph has befriended Mary Carson (Barbara Stanwyck), a wealthy elderly local who owns Drogheda, a sheep station in the Australian Outback, in the hope that a hefty enough bequest from her to the Catholic church might liberate him from his exile. Mary informs Father Ralph de Bricassart that her brother, Paddy Cleary, and his wife Fee and their children, are coming from New Zealand to help run Drogheda.

Ralph is strikingly handsome - "a beautiful man" - and Mary, who doesn't bother to conceal her desire for him, often goes to great lengths to see if can be induced to break his vows. Ralph blandly shrugs off these attentions and continues his visits. Meanwhile, he cares for all the Clearys and soon learns to cherish beautiful but forlorn little Meggie. Meggie, in return, makes Ralph the center of her life.

Frank, the son of Paddy and Fee, has a rocky relationship with his father. The two vie for Fee's attention, and Frank resents the many pregnancies Paddy makes her endure. One day, after Fee, now in her forties, reveals she is again pregnant, the two men quarrel violently and Paddy blurts out the truth about Frank - he is not Paddy's son. Long ago, Fee had been the adored only daughter of a prominent citizen. Then, she had an affair with a married politician, and the result, Frank, was already eighteen months old when her mortified father married her off to Paddy. Because he resembles her lost love, Fee has always loved Frank more than her other children. To the sorrow of Meggie and Fee, when Frank learns that Paddy is not his father, he runs away to become a boxer. Fee later gives birth to Hal, but shows little interest in him. Shortly afterward, Hal dies.

With Frank gone and Hal dead, Meggie clings to Ralph more than ever. This goes unnoticed by many as Ralph has now been her mentor for several years; however, as she ripens into womanhood (played by Rachel Ward), some begin to question their close relationship, including Ralph and Meggie themselves. Mary Carson, meanwhile, has noticed their changing relationship and from motives of jealousy mingled with Machiavellian cruelty, she devises a plan to separate Ralph from Meggie by tempting him with his heart's desire - a high place in the Church hierarchy. Although her will of record leaves the bulk of her estate to Paddy, she quietly writes a new one, making the Roman Catholic Church the main beneficiary and Ralph the executor.

In the new will, the vast nature of Mary's wealth is exposed for the first time. Drogheda is not the center of Mary's fortune as Ralph and Paddy have long believed but is merely a "hobby", a diversion from her true financial interests. Mary's wealth is derived from a vast multi-national financial empire worth over thirteen million pounds (about AU$200 million in modern terms). The sheer size of Mary's bequest will insure Ralph's rapid rise in the church. She also provides for her disinherited brother, promising him and all his descendants a home on Drogheda as long as they wish. This seemingly benevolent bequest has a dark side. Since Drogheda will now be the property of the church and Ralph will be the executor, Mary has insured that Meggie will be forever dependent upon Ralph for everything.

At Mary's seventy-fifth birthday party Ralph goes to great lengths to avoid Meggie, now seventeen and dressed in a beautiful rose-pink evening gown; later, he explains that others might not see his attention as innocent. Mary dies in the night, possibly by suicide. The lawyer, outraged, urges Ralph to destroy the will, but to no avail. The bequest of thirteen million pounds works its expected magic, and Ralph soon leaves to begin his rapid advance in the Church. Before he leaves, Meggie confesses her love for him. Ralph refuses her because of his duties as a priest and begs Meggie to find someone to love and marry.

The Clearys discover that Frank has been convicted of murder after killing someone in a fight, and he must now spend the rest of his life in prison.

Paddy and his son Stuart are killed, much to Meggie's distress since she and Stu were close (Stu was the only relative of Meggie aware of her feelings for Ralph); Paddy dies when a tree hit by lightning and set ablaze, falls on him killing him. Stu is gored by a wild boar shortly after he finds his father's body. Ralph is on his way to Drogheda for a visit, and when he arrives he is unaware of Paddy and Stu's deaths. Ralph remains at Drogheda to conduct the funerals and then leaves for Rome.

Three years later, a new ranch worker named Luke O'Neill (Bryan Brown) begins to court Meggie. Although his motives are more mercenary than romantic, she marries him because he looks a little bit like Ralph. She soon realizes her mistake. After a brief honeymoon, Luke, a skinflint who regards women as sex objects and prefers the company of men, finds Meggie a live-in job with a kindly couple, the Muellers, and leaves to join a gang of itinerant sugarcane cutters in North Queensland. Although Luke tells Meggie he's saving money to buy a homestead, he quickly becomes obsessed with the competitive toil of cane-cutting and has no real intention of giving it up. Hoping to change Luke's ambition and settle him down, Meggie purposely becomes pregnant and bears Luke a red-haired daughter, Justine. The new baby, however, makes little impression on Luke.

Father Ralph visits Meggie during her difficult labor; he has come to say goodbye, as he is leaving Australia for Rome. He sees Meggie's unhappiness for himself, and pities her. Justine proves to be a fractious baby, so the Muellers send Meggie to an isolated island resort for a rest. Father Ralph returns to Australia and learns of Meggie's whereabouts from Anne Mueller, and joins her for several days. There, finally, the lovers consummate their passion, and Ralph realizes that despite his ambition to be the perfect priest, his desire for Meggie makes him a man like other men. Father Ralph returns to the Church and Meggie, pregnant with Ralph's child, decides to separate from Luke. The next morning, she tells Luke what she really thinks of him, and returns to Drogheda, leaving him to his cane-cutting.

Back home, she gives birth to a beautiful boy whom she names Dane. Fee, who has had experience in such matters, notices Dane's resemblance to Ralph as soon as he is born. The relationship between Meggie and Fee takes a turn for the better. Justine grows into an independent, keenly intelligent girl who loves her brother dearly. However Meggie neglects Justine just as Fee neglected Meggie, for the exact same reasons.

Dane grows up and decides, to Meggie's dismay, to become a priest. Fee tells Meggie that what she stole from God she must now give back. Justine, meanwhile, decides to become an actress and leaves Australia to seek her dream in England. Ralph, now a Cardinal, becomes a mentor to Dane, but somehow fails to recognize that the young man is his own son. Dane is also unaware of their true relationship.

Dane vacations in Greece and dies there when he drowns. His body is flown back to Drogheda, where Ralph conducts the funeral. In a moment of anger, Meggie tells Ralph the truth about Dane. He breaks down, with Meggie looking on. Fee and Meggie make peace after Fee finds out that Justine feels the need to stay at Drogheda. Meggie finally admits to Justine that she did purposely neglect her, although admitting that she loved her as well. The mother and daughter make peace. Justine, now the sole surviving grandchild of Fee and Paddy Cleary, finally accepts the advances of Rainer, a distinguished German politician who has loved her for years. She leaves with Rainer. In the flower garden, Meggie finds Ralph and they settle their differences. Ralph then dies with Meggie's head in his lap.

The title refers to a mythical bird that searches for thorn trees from the day it is hatched. When it finds the perfect thorn it impales itself, singing the most beautiful song ever heard as it dies.

List of Characters

*Meghann "Meggie" Cleary - The central character, the only daughter in a large family of sons. The novel takes her from early childhood to old age.

*Father Ralph de Bricassart - Meggie's true love, a handsome Irish Catholic priest.

*Padraic "Paddy" Cleary - Meggie's father, a kind and simple laboring Irishman.

*Fiona "Fee" Armstrong Cleary - Paddy's wife and Meggie's mother, an aristocratic woman who has come down in the world.

*Francis Armstrong Cleary - Meggie's eldest brother, Fee's illegitimate first son. A favourite with Meggie and Fee both.

*Mary Elizabeth Cleary Carson - Paddy's immensely wealthy older sister; Father Ralph's benefactor; owner of Drogheda.

*Luke O'Neill - Meggie's husband during an unhappy three-year marriage; father of Justine.

*Dane O'Neill - Son of Meggie and Ralph, Meggie's pride and joy.

*Justine O'Neill - Daughter of Meggie and Luke, an intelligent, independent girl. At the end, she is the only surviving grandchild of Paddy and Fee Cleary.

*Luddie and Anne Mueller - Meggie's employers during her marriage to Luke. They become lifelong friends.

*Bob, Jack, and Hughie Cleary - Meggie's older brothers. They all resemble Paddy and live out their days, unmarried, on Drogheda.

*Stuart "Stu" Cleary - A quiet, kindly boy who resembles his mother and is closest to Meggie in age. He dies when he's in his teens.

*Harold "Hal" Cleary - Meggie's cherished baby brother. He dies when he's four years old.

*James and Patrick "Jims and Patsy" Cleary - Twin boys, Meggie's youngest brothers. (not in miniseries)

*Rainer "Rain" Moerling Harheim - Friend of Ralph and eventually Dane. Member of the West German Parliament and eventual husband of Justine

* Archbishop (later Cardinal) di Contini-Verchese - Ralph's mentor and friend, also friend to Dane and Rainer.

*Mrs. Smith, Cat, and Minnie - Drogheda's housekeeper and maids.


* Although the mini-series is set in Australia it was filmed in the United States. The outback scenes were filmed in southern California and the Queensland scenes were filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The "Drogheda" main house was a set built on the Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California.

*The mountainous terrain of the southern California "outback" filming location does not resemble western New South Wales, which is predominantly level.

* The mini-series included "the most dangerous bus in Australia". Since filming took place in the US an American bus was used. In Australia, where there is left-hand drive, it would set down its passengers on the wrong side of the road.

* In the miniseries, "Drogheda", Mary Carson's sheep station, is said to have been named after the Irish town of Drogheda, by a former resident of that town. However, its name is mispronounced by all characters as "Drog-ee-da". In fact, the g should be silent and the e short. A former resident would pronounce it as Draw-hed-ah or Dro-hed-ah (with a soft o as in "drop").

* A "midquel" was produced in 1996, by CBS entitled which tells the story of the 19 years unaccounted for in the original miniseries

* New York Jets offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson was named after the character Ralph de Bricassart.

* Rachel Ward, who was born in 1957, plays the mother of a daughter played by 1959 born actress Mare Winningham, and a son played by 1953 born actor Philip Anglim.

* Rachel Ward met her husband Bryan Brown on the set while filming the series. Brown plays Luke O'Neill who marries Ward's character, Meggie Cleary.

*Actor Bryan Brown, was actually the only Australian born cast member hired in a major role. This is not too unusual since although the series takes place in Australia, Luke O'Neill and Meggie's children were the only major characters who were Australian born. Father Ralph, Mary Carson, and Paddy Cleary were all Irish born. Fee and most of the Cleary children were born in New Zealand.

* During casting, actress Jane Seymour was considered for the role of Meggie Cleary and the role of Mary Carson was originally offered to Audrey Hepburn..

Differences between the book and movie

* In the book, Frank eventually returns from prison with Ralph's aid; in the miniseries he dies in prison.
* In the book, Meggie never tells Justine who Dane's father is; in the movie Meggie assumes Justine knows of Dane's paternity.
* In the book, Meggie tells Ralph of his fatherhood to force him to help her find Dane's body; in the movie she doesn't tell him until after Dane is buried on Drogheda.
* In the book, Rain visits Meggie alone; in the movie, he is with Justine on Drogheda, though she is not present for his conversation with her mother.
* In the book, Justine does not go to Greece with Dane at all; in the movie, she is in the country, but is not on the beach with him because Rain appeared.
* In the book, Fee breaks down several times; in the movie, she breaks down only once; after Paddy and Stu's funeral where she tells Father Ralph that she did love Paddy.
* In the book, Meggie and Luke are engaged after a sexual encounter; in the movie they decide to get married at the borehead.
* In the book, Stu and Meggie live with Father Ralph while they attend school in Gilly; in the movie, only Meggie lives with him.
* In the book, Mary dies the night of her 72nd birthday, in the movie, she dies the night of her 75th birthday.
* In the book, Meggie has golden-red hair that curly and short, in the movie, she has long, wavy dark hair.
* In the book, the ashes of roses party dress is very modern, in the movie it is not in style.
* In the book, there are several sons, Frank, Bob, Jack, Hughie, Stuie, Hal, Jims, and Patsy; in the movie there is only Frank, Bob, Jack, Stu, and Hal.
* In the book, Ralph has a brother who is horse breeder in Ireland; in the movie Ralph states that he is the last in his family.
* In the book, Justine's and Dane's childhood is taken in detail; in the movie, Justine and Dane go from early childhood to early twenties.
* In the book, Meggie is seen turning four and her first childhood memories; in the movie, Meggie does not appear until she is ten.
* In the book, Meggie receives a china doll from her mother; in the movie she receives a rag doll from Ralph.
* In the book, only Ralph knows about Mary Carson's second will; in the movie Harry Gough knows about it as well.
* In the book, Luke has an affair with Miss Carmichael and dances with her, but gives Meggie the impression that he felt that Miss Carmichael is boring; in the movie, Luke won't even dance with her.
* In the book, Ralph dies in the big house; in the movie, he dies in the garden.

External links

* [ Encyclopedia of Television]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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