HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing

The Thorn Birds -The Mini-Series Review…

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Posted in: movies

The Thorn Birds 2

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.


  • Bev Stephans
    November 11
    12:25 pm

    Oh God, I loved this when it first came out. I was glued to the TV until it was over. The chemistry between Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlin was out of this world.

    Whoever was responsible for casting this mini series did one hell of a job.


  • I’m really showing my age here but years ago I read the book and then watched the mini-series when it came on the telly. *laughing* I still remember making poor Ron watch it along with me. I thought it was wonderful and tragic. Then I read the book again some years after that and was struck by how ANGRY I was at Father Ralph – that he chose power over love and what was right thing to do. And I always felt sorry for Meggie’s brothers too for some reason.
    Richard Chamberlain was the king back then. I also remember the book and the miniseries ShoGun. Ron liked that one a bit better *g*.


  • Well, I read the book since it was THE READ. Very very soapy and needed A LOT MORE SEX for all that trauma drama-o-rama you get put through.

    The entire book was “furtive glances” after “furtive glances” and then some very very brief “forbidden passion”.

    Flowers In The Attic had more going for it in payout as far as all that forbidden stuff goes.


  • I loved this as a teen, but these days I’m just not into ‘unhappily ever after’… I see enough of that in real life.

    But Richard Chamberlain definitely is “it” as far as actors are concerned, especially the chemistry he and Rachel Ward had. I wish they had let him be a happy lover at least once, since ‘Shogun’ ended all in death and despair, too.


  • I do agree with Teddy that it needed more sex.

    But I loved it anyway–both the book and the movie!


  • Shelby Reed
    November 11
    3:18 pm

    One of my all-time favorite love stories. I watched it at age 14 with my grandmother, who loved the book, and I couldn’t quit thinking about it for days after I saw it (should’ve known then I’d be a romance writer!). Thanks for this sweet visit to the past. Ahh, the glory of the 1980’s mini-series…they just don’t make ’em like they used to!

    Now that gorgeous song is going to be stuck in my head all day…


  • Oh yeah, my first taste of college mini-series squeeing with my dorm mates! Loved Richard Chamberlain back then. Definitely one of the great love stories (not romance, since no HEA).


  • I don’t remember The Thorn Birds. I only remember this Richard Chamberlain in two ways: my Mom took me to see The Three Musketeers when I was little. She used to talk a lot about this Mr. Chamberlain, and sigh whenever anyone mentioned his name. She even went so far as to dress me up like a Musketeer one Halloween. That night she and the neighbor got into a fight after I chased the neighbor’s granddaughter with that skinny plastic sword until she agreed to kiss me. Dad was embarrassed fur and made me apologize to the girl. I still wonder if that’s why she ended up in a convent..

    I also remember sitting with my sisters watching a mini-series called Shogun.There was one scene of guys being boiled to death and I started crying and Dad ran in and pulled the set plug from the outlet. Didn’t stop my sisters from threatening to boil me a live in the bathtub, either, thank you. Dad saved me from that ordeal, too, and I found out later that he ended up writing a complaint letter to the studio about the violence on TV.

    And so I feel not all the “furtive glances” and Henry Mancini music in the world can sugar-coat Mr. Chamberlain’s magnetic corruptible sway over audiences. I am shocked you would suggest anyone watch any movie he ever made. He is dastardly, Karen, dastardly..and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he’s made a pact with the devil to replace Steven Tyler in Aerosmith in exchange for a Hoveround wheelchair and a life-long supply of Viagra. Shame on you, young lady, shame.

    😉 Seriously, I’ll have to rent this now. Thanks for posting your review!


  • Randi
    November 11
    7:59 pm

    Am I the only one who didn’t like The Thorn Birds? I feel bereft, out here alone. 😉 What Teddypig said plus no HEA and I was all “pfft” on the The Thorn Birds. Watching it was even more agonizing than reading it. My grandmother loved it, though.


  • rebyj
    November 11
    8:01 pm

    I loved the book and miniseries too back in the day. I remember the miniseries making me mad because as they’d go to commercial they’d show upcoming scenes and ruin the anticipation of what was to come.

    The accents are hilarious, watching the clips you provided. I’d never have guessed Irish if I hadn’t known. They were more southern USA, especially the women.


  • Mireya
    November 11
    8:17 pm

    “…The Thorn Birds is a movie filled with high drama, and it’s probably very soap opera-ish…”

    This is what put me off in 1983 and still puts me off today not to mention the ending. This series was extraordinarily popular back then, and my friends that loved it then still love it today. Me, I haven’t changed my opinion, despite the fact that I have actually tried several times through the years, to see what was so appealing in this story. *shrugs* I was 21 back then, I am 47 now … and still don’t get it.

    Your review is fantastic, btw … but I still don’t like “The Thorn Birds”.


  • MB (Leah)
    November 11
    8:48 pm

    I enjoyed the book. Zipped right through it. I don’t think I’ve watched the whole series though. I don’t do well with those 3,4,5 part mini series things. Seems always something gets in the way of seeing one part.

    I loved Richard Chamberlain since I was little girl watching Dr. Kildare and he was really good in this.

    On a personal level, that story did piss me off a bit. When I read it I was young and thought that when you love someone that deeply, you go for it, everything else, including ideology, be damned.

    Especially it was heartbreaking after he sleeps with her. WTF? Don’t do that and then walk away again, particularly since it was so right for both. I thought he was such a schmuck for doing that and lost some respect I had for that character.


  • maddie
    November 11
    10:49 pm

    @ Randi :
    Am I the only one who didn’t like The Thorn Birds? I feel bereft, out here alone. 😉 What Teddypig said plus no HEA and I was all “pfft” on the The Thorn Birds. Watching it was even more agonizing than reading it. My grandmother loved it, though.

    Nope you have a fellow scratching of the ” what’s all the hoopla about” never got it never will and since we only had one TV at the time and I was the youngest of 5 girls, you know I was outvoted when this was on TV years ago.


  • I remember seeing some really funny out-take where they were trying to do a dramatic scene but sheep kept “baa”-ing at the wrong moments….


  • Kelly S. Bishop
    November 12
    4:24 am

    I read the book and count me as one of those who didn’t like it. To me Chamberlain’s character was ruled by ambition and the church just happened to be the means. Religion was an excuse to cover his need to keep climbing the ladder and gaining more power. The old lady had his number. He was just a user. I didn’t bother to watch the movie.


  • sallahdog
    November 12
    12:53 pm

    I remember hating this mini series…from the recap(since I forgot most of the details) I have a feeling I would still feel the same way… I remember thinking Meggie was a spoiled brat and all the men were ambitious tools…

    I am also a sucker for a happy ending if a movie is a romance, so… it failed for me as a teenager there, too..


  • Karen W.
    November 13
    4:13 am

    I was in my early ’20s when I read the book and saw the mini-series, and I LOVED both. Still do, actually.

    I thought Richard Chamberlin was very sexy in the movie too. 🙂


  • Karla
    November 13
    4:44 pm

    The author, Colleen McCullough, said that writing it – and the whole 1980s family saga genre – was “boring as batshit,” and I have to agree. I’ve never been able to get through either the book or the miniseries.

    But it made her $$$ and, luckily, gave her the stature to write her real masterpieces IMO, the Masters of Rome series.


  • Well, I read the book since it was THE READ. Very very soapy and needed A LOT MORE SEX for all that trauma drama-o-rama you get put through.

    @Teddypig, now you see, I think that any more sex would have just ruined the TV series, as well as the book, because one thing I loved about TB was the fantastic sexual tension between Ralph and Meggie. Theirs was a simmering passion, and had they gone at it like rabbits, it wouldn’t have been quite the same methinks.


  • Now that gorgeous song is going to be stuck in my head all day…

    @Shelby I totally loved the theme tune. Long time no see by the way, I’m still waiting for your next book!


  • Shelby Reed
    November 19
    1:02 am

    Karen, it’s almost finished! You always make me feel excited about my own work. LOL


  • Hilda
    January 19
    12:01 am

    Cool classic movie. OMG the movies from the 80’s are classics, I’m getting old. I think Ralph was a jerk in a way, if he truly loved Meggie, he should have left the priesthood and married her.


  • lily mcwilliams
    June 7
    10:52 am

    To me the Thorn Birds is on an equal with Gone With The Wind.
    It covered a topic which was taboo then forbidden love.
    Richard Chamberlain and Rachael Ward were outstanding. The music was so poignant, it brought tears to my eyes.
    A timeless classic, loved, revered, and still standing the test of time.

    I am still in love with Richard Chamerlain, that gorgeous man. No one could have acted the part only him.

    Truly a wondeful tale of an Irsh family down the ages. With all their heartaches and troubles this made theseries so realistic.

    Oh, if only I could start watching it again as I did as very young girl.
    I loved, loved , loved everything about The Thorn Birds.


  • elizabeth langevin
    July 12
    6:00 am


    It definitely needed no more sex. The teasing of their love, was enough for the story, showing the pain their love brought to both.


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment