Theme music composer Henry Mancini
Original language(s) English
Final episode date 30 March 1983
Directed by Daryl Duke
Country of origin United States
First episode date 27 March 1983
|Written by Carmen CulverLee StanleyColleen McCullough (novel)|
Starring Richard ChamberlainRachel WardBarbara StanwyckChristopher PlummerJean SimmonsBryan BrownPhilip AnglimRichard Kiley
Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film
Cast Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Bryan Brown, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Simmons
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, Jean Simmons, Richard Kiley, Bryan Brown, Mare Winningham and Philip Anglim. It was directed by Daryl Duke and based on a novel 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.
Set primarily on Drogheda, a fictional sheep station in the Australian outback named after Drogheda, Ireland, the story focuses on three generations of the Cleary family and spans the years from December 1920 to December 1962.
Deviations from the novel
The novel begins in New Zealand on December 8, 1915, Meggie Cleary's fourth birthday. The miniseries begins in Australia five years later.
In the novel, Meggie Cleary's "titian" (red) hair is mentioned frequently, and used as a plot device. Rachel Ward, who played Meggie in the miniseries, had auburn hair which is a reddish brown. In the miniseries, Meggie and Stuart visit Frank in prison, where Frank eventually dies. In the novel, Ralph acts as a go-between and no one in the Cleary family sees Frank until he is released from prison after 30 years.
In the novel, Meggie is totally ignorant of sexual matters until her wedding and has her own childish idea of how babies are made, which is revealed in her dialogue with Ralph. In the corresponding dialogue in the film, she is at least aware that animals copulate. The scene in the novel where Meggie reveals to Ralph that she has begun menstruating has Ralph reacting with anger toward Fee (although he never confronts Fee about it), whereas in the miniseries, Ralph is amused.
Meggie has 8 brothers in the novel. In the miniseries, only 5 appear (Frank, Bob, Jack, Stuey and Hal).
Justine visits Greece with Dane in the miniseries, while in the novel she stays in London.
In the miniseries, Anne and Luddie Mueller attend Dane's funeral. In the novel, Luddie had died prior to Dane's funeral and Anne attended alone.
Ralph dies while sitting in a chair with Meggie's head in his lap, recalling the legend of the thorn bird, not in Meggie's arms as in the novel, and not immediately after Dane's funeral.
The miniseries ends with Ralph's death. The novel continues with Justine's and Rainer's story.
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 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.
VHS and DVD releases and ratings
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.