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The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years

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The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years
Written byDavid Stevens
Colleen McCullough (characters from her novel)
Directed byKevin James Dobson
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
CinematographyRoss Berryman
Running time178 minutes
Production companiesThe Wolper Organization
Village Roadshow Pictures Television
Warner Bros. Television
Original release
ReleaseFebruary 11, 1996 (1996-02-11) (U.S.)

The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years is a 1996 CBS miniseries directed by Kevin James Dobson. Adapted from the 1977 novel The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, it tells the story of the nineteen years between Dane's birth and Ralph's return to Australia. These years are unaccounted for in both the original 1983 ABC miniseries and the novel. Unlike the original, which was filmed in California, The Missing Years was filmed entirely in Australia, and the Drogheda sheep ranch had to be rebuilt from scratch. Actor Richard Chamberlain was also the only previous cast member to return.

The Missing Years received mixed reviews from both critics and audiences, with praise directed at the sets and performances, but criticism directed at the plot and alleged inconsistencies with the original miniseries. However, star Richard Chamberlain was proud of his work on The Missing Years, stating: "It’s a terrific story. It’s full of intrigue. But the love story is classic, an absolute classic. Never have there been so many crucial barriers between the lovers."[1]


In 1942, seven years have passed since the birth of Dane, the illegitimate son of Catholic priest Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain) and Meghann "Meggie" O'Neill (Amanda Donohoe). After leaving her husband, Luke O'Neill (Simon Westaway), Meggie has been forced to run Drogheda largely on her own, since all her brothers went off to fight in World War II. To make matters worse, a two-year drought has struck the area. One day, Luke, arrives on Drogheda and begs Meggie to forgive him. Meggie, lonely, in need of a man to run the ranch and to be a father for her children, reluctantly takes Luke back, and she becomes pregnant once again.

Meanwhile, Father Ralph has been using his ministry in Rome as a haven for Jewish war refugees. After Ralph uses some of Mary Carson's estate money to send a young orphan to America, the church "punishes" him by forcing him to return to Drogheda to guard the church's bequeathed property and to convince the Australian government to accept more refugees. Ralph arrives in Australia unannounced and Luke is not pleased to see him. Luke demands Meggie move with him immediately to a ramshackle cabin on the farm he purchased, just to get Meggie away from Ralph. When Meggie resists, Luke strikes her, causing her to miscarry.

Meggie decides she can never return to Luke, but Luke declares he only returned for Dane, whom he thinks is his son. Meggie takes Luke to court for custody of Dane. The judge, a Protestant biased against Dane's desire to be a priest, awards custody to Luke, with Meggie refusing to ruin Ralph by announcing Dane is his and not Luke's son. She decides to avoid scandal, confronting Ralph with the fact that he loves God more than her, that he will always be devoted to a greater good. She has raised her son without the knowledge of who his father is.

The rains finally come, and Ralph and Meggie do their best to round up the animals before the flood comes. Unable to make it back to Drogheda in the downpour, the two find refuge in a small cabin, where a night of romance ensues. Meggie's mother, Fee, in a last-ditch attempt to reclaim Dane, confronts Luke with the truth—Dane is not his son but the son of Father Ralph. Luke swears never to reveal this fact for fear of losing Meggie and his children to Ralph forever. Luke confronts Ralph and starts a fight, declaring if Ralph can beat him he can have Dane. Ralph defeats Luke, and torn and bleeding, Luke returns Dane to Meggie.


Special guest appearance by


Producer David L. Wolper explained why this story was not included in the original 1983 The Thorn Birds miniseries: "there were so many hours that we could do for the original. We decided in the original that after he made love to Meggie that we would just cut ahead to the children." After reruns during the summer of 1993 proved popular Wolper decided there was an audience for more Thorn Birds. Actor Richard Chamberlain was the only actor to return for the prequel, but he turned down the original script, stating: "It was very good, but I don’t think it treated Father Ralph well enough, so I turned that down. I thought he wasn’t active enough in the story."[1]

The miniseries was filmed entirely on location in Australia,[1] unlike the original, which was filmed in California.[2] According to Wolper, when they were making the original, he wanted to shoot it in Australia, but there weren't enough film crews to make that vision a reality. However, by the time The Missing Years was in development, the Australian film industry had become substantially more capable. Wolper stated: “Over the years, there have been many crews developed in Australia. We had an Australian director, so he knew the best crews down there.” The filmmakers went to painstaking lengths to completely rebuild the Drogheda set to make it look as accurate as possible to the original. The plans for the Drogheda mansion from the original miniseries had been lost and the set designer had since passed away. Richard Chamberlain claimed: "They had to re-create it from the film, which was very difficult. They did an extraordinary good job, I think."[1] Principal photography began on July 24, 1995 and wrapped on September 19, 1995.[3]


Variety gave the miniseries a mixed review, stating that the set design was "first-rate", also praising the casting and stating that, although it would take a miracle to top the original, "the love story is still involving".[4] The Deseret News was far more negative, calling it a travesty, writing that the story "not only pales in comparison to the original but often directly contradicts events in both the book and the first miniseries". One of the alleged inconsistencies mentioned in the review was that Father Ralph offers to leave the church and marry Meggie, something that he never implied in the original. Another was that Meggie's mother, Fee (played by Jean Simmons), goes from a quiet, irreligious woman to a religious, rapid-talking gossip-bearer.[2] Despite the mixed reaction, Richard Chamberlain was proud of his work on the film, stating: "It was really exciting. It’s a wonderful story and a wonderful cast. I think it turned out really well."[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Back on the Ranch : 'THE MISSING YEARS': FATHER RALPH LEAVES THE VATICAN AND MEETS UP WITH MEGGIE. EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED?". Los Angeles Times. 11 February 1996.
  2. ^ a b Scott D. Pierce (9 February 1996). "'THORN BIRDS: MISSING YEARS' IS A TRAVESTY". Deseret News.
  3. ^ https://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/478979/the-thorn-birds-the-missing-years/#notes
  4. ^ McCarthy, John P. (9 February 1996). "The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years". Variety.

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