The Thorn Birds (TV miniseries)

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This article is about the television series. For the 1977 novel by Colleen McCullough, see The Thorn Birds.
The Thorn Birds
Directed by Daryl Duke
Written by Carmen Culver
Lee Stanley
Colleen McCullough (novel)
Starring Richard Chamberlain
Rachel Ward
Barbara Stanwyck
Christopher Plummer
Jean Simmons
Bryan Brown
Philip Anglim
Richard Kiley
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Bill Butler
Editing by Robert F. Shugrue
David Saxon
Carroll Timothy O'Meara
Country United States
Language English
Original channel ABC
Release date  ()
Running time 467 minutes
No. of episodes 4

The Thorn Birds is a television mini-series broadcast on ABC between 27 and 30 March 1983. It starred Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Barbara Stanwyck, Christopher Plummer, Jean Simmons, Richard Kiley, Bryan Brown, Mare Winningham, and Philip Anglim. It was directed by Daryl Duke and based on a novel by Colleen McCullough. The series was enormously successful and became the United States' second highest rated mini-series of all time behind Roots; both series were produced by television veteran David L. Wolper.

Set primarily on Drogheda, a fictional sheep station in the Australian outback, named after Drogheda, Ireland. The story focuses on three generations of the Cleary Family and spans the years December 1920 to December 1963.

Plot[edit]

For more details on this topic, see The Thorn Birds § Plot.

Deviations from the novel[edit]

The novel begins in New Zealand on December 8, 1915, Meggie Cleary's fourth birthday. The miniseries begins in Australia five years later.

In the novel, Meggie Cleary's "titian" (red) hair is mentioned frequently, and used as a plot device. Rachel Ward, who played Meggie in the miniseries, had dark brown hair. In the miniseries, Meggie and Stuart visit Frank in prison, where Frank eventually dies. In the novel, Ralph acts as a go-between and no one in the Cleary family sees Frank until he is released from prison after 30 years.

In the novel, Meggie is totally ignorant of sexual matters until her wedding and has her own childish idea of how babies are made, which is revealed in her dialogue with Ralph. In the corresponding dialogue in the film, she is at least aware that animals copulate. The scene in the novel where Meggie reveals to Ralph that she has begun menstruating has Ralph reacting with anger toward Fee (although he never confronts Fee about it), whereas in the miniseries, Ralph is amused.

Justine visits Greece with Dane in the miniseries, while in the novel she stays in London.

In the miniseries, Anne and Luddie Mueller attend Dane's funeral. In the novel, Luddie had died prior to Dane's funeral and Anne attended alone.

Ralph dies while sitting in a chair with Meggie's head in his lap, recalling the legend of the thorn bird, not in Meggie's arms as in the novel, and not immediately after Dane's funeral.

The miniseries ends with Ralph's death. The novel continues with Justine's and Rainer's story.

The novel contains a continuity device where characters visit the Drogheda graveyard. This device is not used in the miniseries.

Cast[edit]

Actor Role
Richard Chamberlain Ralph de Bricassart
Rachel Ward Meggie Cleary (as an adult)
Sydney Penny Meggie Cleary (as a child)
Barbara Stanwyck Mary Carson
Richard Kiley Paddy Cleary
Jean Simmons Fee Cleary
Bryan Brown Luke O'Neill
Mare Winningham Justine O'Neill
Philip Anglim Dane O'Neill
Ken Howard Rainer Hartheim
John Friedrich Frank Cleary
Dwier Brown Stuart Cleary (as an adult)
Vidal Peterson Stuart Cleary (as a child)
Piper Laurie Anne Mueller
Earl Holliman Luddie Mueller
Christopher Plummer Archbishop Vittorio di Contini-Verchese
Brett Cullen Bob Cleary
Stephen W. Burns Jack Cleary
Barry Corbin Pete
Holly Palance Miss Carmichael
John de Lancie Alastair MacQueen
Allyn Ann McLerie Mrs. Smith
Richard Venture Harry Gough
Stephanie Faracy Judy
Antoinette Bower Sarah MacQueen

Filming[edit]

  • The mountainous terrain of the southern California "outback" filming location does not resemble western New South Wales, which is predominantly level to gently rolling.
  • 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 right-hand drive, it would set down its passengers in the middle 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"), or draw-da.
  • 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.
  • The serial has had great success in France. The French title is "Les oiseaux se cachent pour mourir" (The birds hide to die). The series is still regularly repeated on TV channels.
  • The series was also very successful in Brazil, where it was broadcast by SBT. During its first broadcast, in 1985, the minisseries beat Globo TV network in the ratings, which had always been the leader in ratings in Brazil. The series last aired in Brazil from October 2 through October 13, 2006, at 9:40 PM (local time).

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Nominee(s) Result
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Achievement in Makeup Del Acevedo Won
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Movie Robert MacKichan, Jerry Adams Won
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Film Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie Carroll Timothy O'Meara Won
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Richard Chamberlain Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Barbara Stanwyck Won
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Miniseries or Movie The Thorn Birds Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Bryan Brown Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Richard Kiley Won
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Christopher Plummer Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Piper Laurie Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Jean Simmons Won
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Richard Chamberlain Won
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Rachel Ward Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film The Thorn Birds Won
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Bryan Brown Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Richard Kiley Won
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Piper Laurie Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Jean Simmons Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Barbara Stanwyck Won
1984 People's Choice Awards Best TV Miniseries The Thorn Birds Won
1984 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie Sydney Penny Won

DVD Release & Rating[edit]

The Thorn Birds was released on VHS in 1991 in the US and Canada; it was re-released again on DVD in the US and Canada on February 3, 2004. Both editions were given a Not Rated certification. It is rated PG in New Zealand for violence, sexual references, coarse language and nudity.

External links[edit]