The Thorn Birds (miniseries)

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The Thorn Birds
The Thorn Birds (miniseries).jpg
DVD cover
Written byCarmen Culver
Lee Stanley
Colleen McCullough (novel)
Directed byDaryl Duke
Theme music composerHenry Mancini
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes4
Executive producers
Production locations
CinematographyBill Butler
Running time467 minutes
Production companies
Original networkABC
Picture formatColor
Audio formatMono
Original releaseMarch 27 (1983-03-27) –
March 30, 1983 (1983-03-30)
The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years (1996)

The Thorn Birds is an American television miniseries broadcast on ABC from March 27 to 30, 1983. It starred Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Barbara Stanwyck, Christopher Plummer, Piper Laurie, Jean Simmons, Richard Kiley, Bryan Brown, Mare Winningham and Philip Anglim. It was directed by Daryl Duke and based on the 1977 novel of the same name by Colleen McCullough. The series was enormously successful and became the United States' second highest-rated miniseries of all time behind Roots; both series were produced by television veteran David L. Wolper.



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


The novel was originally developed as a feature film with Ed Lewis attached to produce. Ivan Moffat wrote an early draft of the script. Herbert Ross was the first director, and he saw Christopher Reeve about playing the lead. Then Peter Weir became attached to direct; Robert Redford was the favourite to play the lead. Eventually Weir dropped out and Arthur Hiller was going to direct; Ryan O'Neal was mooted as a star. Eventually it was decided to turn it into a mini series.[1][2]

The role of Meggie Cleary became the most sought after role of the production, and was considered the role of a lifetime. Many actresses campaigned and auditioned for the role over a long period of pre-production. British actress Lynne Frederick was one of many actresses who heavily campaigned for the role. Frederick even dyed her hair red to showcase herself. Other actresses who auditioned for the part included Michelle Pfeiffer, Jane Seymour, Olivia Newton-John, and Kim Basinger.


  • 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 train station was depicted by the Santa Paula Depot in Santa Paula.[3]
  • 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, which drives on the left side of the road, its passengers would have to board and be set down 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, it is mispronounced by all characters as "Druh-GHEE-duh". In fact, the Irish "gh" is pronounced like the "ch" in "Loch" and the stress is on the first syllable, meaning that the station would be pronounced as "DROCH-e-duh".
  • 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 1952-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 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.
  • Father Terrance Sweeney, an Emmy Award-winning Jesuit priest, was a technical advisor on the mini-series. He left the priesthood in 1986 and married Pamela Susan Shoop, an actress and daughter of actress Julie Bishop, in 1987.[4] They co-authored the book "What God Hath Joined" that discussed their relationship.
  • Charles Swaim of Drakesville, Iowa, who was the world champion sheep shearer at the time, was the consultant for the sheep shearing scenes in the series.
  • 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 miniseries beat Globo TV network in the ratings, which had always been the leader in ratings in Brazil. The series last aired in Brazil from January 5 through March 9, 2019, at 6:30 PM (local time).

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
1984 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie Sydney Penny Won
People's Choice Awards Best TV Miniseries The Thorn Birds Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film Won [5]
Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Richard Chamberlain Won
Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Rachel Ward Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Richard Kiley Won
Bryan Brown Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Barbara Stanwyck Won
Piper Laurie Nominated
Jean Simmons Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Limited Series David L. Wolper, Edward Lewis and Stan Margulie Nominated [6]
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special Richard Chamberlain Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special Barbara Stanwyck Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special Richard Kiley Won
Bryan Brown Nominated
Christopher Plummer Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special Jean Simmons Won
Piper Laurie Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or a Special Daryl Duke (for "Part II") Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series or a Special Robert MacKichan, Jerry Adams (for "Part I") Won
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or a Special Bill Butler (for "Part I") Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Limited Series or a Special William Travilla Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup Del Acevedo (for "Part IV") Won
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Limited Series or a Special (Dramatic Underscore) Henry Mancini (for "Part I") Nominated
Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series or a Special Carroll Timothy O'Meara (for "Part III") Won
Robert F. Shugrue (for "Part I") Nominated

Home media[edit]

The Thorn Birds was released on VHS in 1991 in the US and Canada; it was re-released 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.


A followup titled The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years was broadcast by CBS in 1996. It tells the story of the 19 years unaccounted for in the original miniseries.


  1. ^ Mann, Roderick (8 July 1980). "RYAN O'NEAL: HOOKED ON 'THORN BIRDS' AND FARRAH". Los Angeles Times. p. g1.
  2. ^ Mann, Roderick (14 Feb 1980). "REDFORD IS READING 'THORN BIRDS' SCRIPT". Los Angeles Times. p. i1.
  3. ^ Kelly, Peggy (16 May 2012). "Railroad Plaza, Depot gleeful when filled with cast of 'Glee'". Santa Paula Times. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Archives".
  5. ^ "The 41st Annual Golden Globe Awards (1984)". Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  6. ^ "The Thorn Birds". Retrieved 27 February 2022.

External links[edit]