The Thorn Birds (miniseries)

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The Thorn Birds
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 release
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.


The series centres around the lives of the Cleary family from the 1920s until the 1960s, who are brought from New Zealand to the Australian outback to help run the ranch of their aunt Mary Carson, and the forbidden love between Meggie Cleary and the family's priest, Father Raph de Briscassart.


Actor Role
Richard Chamberlain Father Ralph de Bricassart
Rachel Ward Meghan "Meggie" Cleary
Jean Simmons Fiona "Fee" Cleary
Ken Howard Rainer Hartheim
Mare Winningham Justine "Jussy" O'Neill
Piper Laurie Anne Mueller
Richard Kiley Padraic "Paddy" Cleary
Earl Holliman Luddie Mueller
Bryan Brown Luke O'Neill
Philip Anglim Dane O'Neill
Special guest appearance
Christopher Plummer Archbishop Vittorio di Contini-Verchese
Barbara Stanwyck Mary Carson
Also starring
John Friedrich Frank Cleary
Allyn Ann McLerie Mrs. Smith
Richard Venture Harry Gough
Stephanie Faracy Judy Sutton
Barry Corbin Pete
Sydney Penny Young Meggie Cleary
Stephen Burns Jack Cleary
Brett Cullen Bob Cleary
Antoinette Bower Sarah MacQueen
Dwier Brown Stuart "Stuie" Cleary
John de Lancie Alastair MacQueen
Bill Morey Angus MacQueen
Vidal Peterson Young Stuie Cleary
Holly Palance Miss Carmichael
Meg Wyllie Annie
Wally Dalton Fair Barker
Nan Martin Sister Agatha
Chard Hayward Arne Swenson
Rance Howard Doc Wilson
Lucinda Dooling Martha
Aspa Nakopolou Phaedre


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.
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Limited Series David L. Wolper, Edward Lewis, and Stan Margulies Nominated [5]
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 Bryan Brown Nominated
Richard Kiley Won
Christopher Plummer Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special Piper Laurie Nominated
Jean Simmons Won
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or a Special Daryl Duke (for "Part II") Nominated
Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series or a Special Robert MacKichan and Jerry Adams (for "Part I") Won
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or a Special Bill Butler (for "Part I") Nominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Limited Series or a Special William Travilla 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
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
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Episode for a Television Mini-Series Carroll Timothy O'Meara (for "Part III") Nominated [6]
Robert F. Shugrue (for "Part I") Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television or Miniseries Daryl Duke Nominated [7]
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Won [8]
Best Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Richard Chamberlain Won
Best Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Rachel Ward Nominated
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Bryan Brown Nominated
Richard Kiley Won
Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Piper Laurie Nominated
Jean Simmons Nominated
Barbara Stanwyck Won
People's Choice Awards Best TV Miniseries Won
Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Movie Made for Television Sydney Penny Won [9]
Online Film & Television Association Awards Television Hall of Fame: Productions Inducted [10]
TV Land Awards Miniseries You Didn't Miss a Moment Of 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". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ "The Thorn Birds". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  6. ^ "Nominees/Winners". IMDb. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  7. ^ "36th Annual DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  8. ^ "The Thorn Birds". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  9. ^ "5th Youth in Film Awards". Young Artist Awards. Archived from the original on 2011-04-03. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  10. ^ "Television Hall of Fame: Productions". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved August 12, 2023.

External links[edit]