The Thorn Birds: 30 Years Later
“Love…Forbidden..Forever…The Thorn Birds”
When Colleen McCullough’s novel The Thorn Birds was released in 1977 it became an instant bestseller and six years later would be turned into the second highest rated miniseries of all time.
The four part series aired between March 27 and March 30, 1983 on ABC and featured an all star cast of highly acclaimed actors such as Richard Chamberlain, Jean Simmons, Piper Laurie, Christopher Plummer, Bryan Brown, Richard Kiley, Barbara Stanwyck, Mare Winningham and Philip Anglim. The film also introduced the viewing public to a talented young actress named Rachel Ward, who along with Richard Chamberlain gave the most powerful and passionate performance in the film. Sydney Penny, who played Ward’s character (Meggie Clearly) as a child, was also very good. Jane Seymour was for awhile considered for the part of Meggie while the role of Mary Carson (played by Stanwyck) was originally offered to Audrey Hepburn
The Thorn Birds is set in the Australian outback in the fictional town of Drogheda from 1920 to the early 1960’s. The story follows three generations of the Clearly family, with special emphasis on the forbidden love affair between Meghan “Meggie “ Clearly (Rachel Ward), the only daughter, and the family’s pastor, Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain). David L. Wolper, who produced Roots, the highest rated miniseries of all time, was the executive producer of The Thorn Birds with Daryl Duke directing all four parts. The acclaimed composer Henry Mancini provided the memorable musical score.
Richard Chamberlain has often described The Thorn Birds as a soap opera, especially since not one single character in this film ever seems to be happy. Father Ralph is a tortured man torn between his love for God, his love for Meggie and his own ambition. Meggie is torn between living in a fantasy world where she can love a man who in reality she can never be with or live a life without him.
The Thorn Birds for me is not so much a love story as it is the story of the survival of Meggie. During the course of the story Meggie loses three brothers, her father, her son and the man she can never be with. This is a young woman that loses so much but retains ability to love.
The Thorn Birds is really well made and features great performances. The single greatest performance and the one not recognized by critics is Rachel Ward’s. She had very little acting experience going into this project but delivers a wonderful performance and has great chemistry with Richard Chamberlain.
Rachel Ward was only two years older than Mare Winningham, who plays her daughter Justine, and was actually four years younger than Philip Anglim, who played her son Dane. However, Ward added maturity to her performance as the aging Meggie so that the audience never questions that she is their mother.
After 3 decades, The Thorn Birds remains a milestone in television history. It’s a compelling story, well produced and filled with some strong performances from a talented cast.
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