I had a bit of a Thorn Birds marathon session the other day. I literally watched every single minute of every episode, of this incredible 1983 mini-series.
You guys are old enough to remember The Thorn Birds right? Sure you are, if I am, you must be too.
Anyway, I was afraid it wouldn’t stand up to the test of time, but I was very wrong. The Irish accents were fairly dodgy, but the story of Meggie Cleary and Father Ralph De Bricassart was far too grand to sweat the small stuff.
For those who have never read the book or seen the film, this story spans over 50 years and was primarily set in Drogheda, a fictional sheep station in New South Wales, Australia, between 1915 and the late 1960s.
Directed by Daryl Duke, the main characters were Meggie Cleary, and Irish priest, Ralph De Bricassart, played by the beautiful Rachel Ward, and the gorgeous Richard Chamberlain. The series also starred the quite regal, Jean Simmons, and the irrepressible Barbara Stanwyck, as well as Cocktail’s Bryan Brown.
Ralph, a young priest with ambitions of rising to great heights within the Roman catholic church, first meets Meggie when she’s a little girl. (He’s a friend of her rich aunt Mary Carson) She’s the only female born to Fee (Jean Simmons) and Paddy Cleary, and all her life, she has been painfully aware that her mother simply didn’t love her as much as she did her brothers.
Meggie was often ignored and forgotten, and upon meeting her, Father Ralph realises that for all intents and purposes, she’s an abandoned child, and takes her in hand, and mentors her.
Drogheda is owned by Meggie’s father’s sister, Mary Carson (Randy old bitch she was), a hard-nosed, fiercely independent wealthy business woman, who also happened to have the hots for Father Ralph.
Ralph has no problem spurning the advances of the women in and around Drogheda, including the aged Mary, because as far as he’s concerned, he’s a priest, first, last and always, and he has pledged his life to God.
Several years go by, and Meggie soon starts growing up.
There’s a really touching scene in the movie, where Meggie, confused by the onset of her period, is convinced that she’s dying, and it’s Ralph who comforts her, and tells her that it just means she’s growing up. I loved this scene in the movie, because it showed the innocence of their relationship.
As far as Ralph is concerned, Meggie is like a daughter to him, a daughter who he cherishes, and wants the best for.
Unfortunately for Ralph, Meggie really starts growing up, and she turns into a beautiful headstrong young woman, who tempts him at every turn. Meggie is desperately in love with Ralph, and cannot understand why she must give him up to God.
Ralph realises that Meggie is a tempting, beautiful woman now
Ralph realises that he’s committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with Meggie, but he has sworn his life to God, and he realises that he has to sacrifice his love for her in order to realise his dream of one day becoming a cardinal within the Roman Catholic church.
Ralph means the world to Meggie, and she tries several times to seduce him, but to no avail. Ralph is shown to be steadfast in his ambitions and in his unwavering love for his God, and continuously spurns Meggie’s advances.
One day, angry at Fee’s treatment of Meggie, Ralph goes to her and urges her to think of Meggie more, and to try to encourage her to find a life, and a husband.
Meggie overhears this conversation and despairs that she’ll never have the thing that she really wants.
Before Mary Carson dies, she changes her will, and instead of giving Drogheda and all her wealth to her family who have served her well, she gives everything to Ralph and the roman catholic church, knowing that his ambition to rise rapidly within the church, would force him to take the money, rather than giving it to the rightful heirs, something that is bound to destroy his relationship with Meggie. Did I mention that she was quite the bitch?
Anyway, Mary’s plan works, and Ralph goes to Italy to continue his service to God, leaving Meggie alone and heartbroken.
Vowing to rid herself of her feelings for Ralph, Meggie soon takes up with an asshole, and even worse, marries him. Mostly because he looks a bit like Ralph, but also because he’s a protestant and isn’t ruled by religion the way Ralph is. In truth Luke O’Neill (Bryan Brown) is a gold digger with ambitions to own his own sheep station one day (or so he tells Meggie) and he figures that Meggie and her money are a sure-fire way to speed up the achievement of his goals. The pair move to Queensland, where O’Neill hires her out as a live-in housekeeper to a lovely couple called the Muellers.
Meggie is left alone constantly and her dreams of having a baby and somebody who actually loves her soon turns to ashes, when she realises that her new husband would prefer to work all day and play all night with his male friends than be with her.
One night, desperate and lonely, Meggie seduces her husband in order to at least get pregnant. She’s successful, but Luke hits the roof, and he leaves her alone even more than before.
Meggie wants a home of her own and can’t understand why her husband doesn’t seem to want the same thing. He tells her that they can’t afford it, so in desperation, Meggie writes to Ralph, asking him for the money that Luke claims he needs.
Ralph knowing that Meggie must be in desperate strife, arrives just as she goes into labour. The labour is a difficult one, and Ralph stays by her side, praying that his Meggie survives.
Meggie does survive and gives birth to a fractious little girl called Justine.
Meggie urges Ralph once again to be with her, but his love for God is still greater than his love for her, and he tells her that he cannot break his vows. Angry, Meggie sends him away and slowly falls into a deep depression.
The Muellers start worrying about Meggie’s listlessness and her seemingly never-ending depression, and so sends her away to a beautiful place called Matlock Island for two months, so that she can recuperate, and get her strength back. They look after Baby Justine while she’s gone.
Meggie goes to the island, feeling more alone than she ever has in her life, however it is whilst she’s there that Ralph finally comes to her and they share a passion-filled few days together, with Ralph breaking all of his vows.
Meggie has never known such happiness, but she realises that their time on the island is numbered, and eventually time catches up with them, and she has to let go of the love of her life.
The scenes with the two of them on the island were some of the most beautiful in the movie. The chemistry between Meggie and Ralph is palpable all the way through the film, and it was great seeing them finally consummate their love.
On Matlock Island
The Thorn Birds is a movie filled with high drama, and it’s probably very soap opera-ish, but I do believe it was saved from being a total cheese-fest because of the fantastic acting from Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain. Jean Simmons who played Fee, Meggie’s mother, was also an awesome stoic presence in Meggie’s life throughout the movie, and the indubitable Barbara Stanwyck was at her scene-stealing best.
There’s an ever-growing feeling of inevitability to this movie, and you know that tragedy is just round the corner every time something good happens, but it was oh-so watchable.
The Thorn Birds is a beautifully directed love story, that deals with forbidden passion, religious ambition, unrequited love, scandal, death, betrayal and ultimately forgiveness.
I must also mention, the main theme tune, a piano solo, written by Henry Mancini, was hauntingly beautiful, and matched the mood and theme of the movie perfectly.
Great selection of Meggie and Ralph scenes, accompanied by main theme tune
If any of you have never watched this 1980s mini-series, I urge you to go and buy it or rent it, grab lots of tissues, grab lots of chocolates, and watch it with your best girlfriends.
It truly is a romance-lover’s film, even without the happily ever after.