THE THORN BIRDS. (1983) DIRECTED BY DARYL DUKE. BASED ON THE 1977 BLOCKBUSTING BOOK BY COLLEEN MCCULLOUGH. THEME MUSIC BY HENRY MANCINI. STARRING RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN, RACHEL WARD, BARBARA STANWYCK, JEAN SIMMONS, BRYAN BROWN, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, RICHARD KILEY, MARE WINNINGHAM, PHILIP ANGLIM AND KEN HOWARD. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. © I absolutely loved this sprawling mini-series set in the Australian outback, on a massive old ranch called Drogheda built by originally Irish settlers. In Ireland, we would pronounce this word as, phonetically, ‘Droh-hedda,’ but the characters in the film make the ‘g’ hard and pronounce it as ‘Drog-eeda,’ a sound painful to the genuinely Irish ear, lol. You’d think they’d have consulted an actual Irish person regarding the pronunciation of this very Irish word, but how-and-ever… On the one hand, it’s the story of the Irish Cleary family, headed by Paddy, who come from New Zealand to live on Drogheda in the early 1920s, as caretakers and labourers for Paddy’s older, millionaire sister, Mary. Mary is played by one of the queens of the old movies, Barbara Stanwyck. It’s a hard, relentless life in New South Wales, with the weather and the unforgiving terrain constantly chucking curveballs at anyone brave enough- or crazy enough- to try to make a living there, and the arrogant, manipulative Mary never lets the Clearys forget who owns the land and the house and who controls the purse-strings. Paddy is a plain honest labouring man who married the aristocratic, unsmiling Fiona- Jean Simmons- when she was knocked up and desperate. She spends the whole series looking down her nose at everything that goes on and bearing with an air of martyrdom the hardships and privations of her life with Paddy. She loves her sons, especially Frank, that wee cuckoo in the nest, but her youngest child and only daughter Meggie doesn’t get so much as a look in. Don’t worry about Meggie, though, folks. She’s not doing too badly. She has something I never had as a child, and that’s her very own pet priest, the swoonsomely handsome and charismatic priest with the romantic name, Fr. Ralph de Bricassart, played by Richard Chamberlain. This is the main storyline of the four episodes, the theme of forbidden love. Fr. Ralph is the padre to their neck of the woods in New South Wales. From the moment the pair set eyes on each other when Meggie comes to Drogheda at the age of about ten, a bond is formed between them that not even God himself can put asunder, even though the ancient Mary Carson has eyes for the priest herself and is savagely jealous of his relationship with Meggie. Fr. Ralph is bewitched by the feisty, lonely little Meggie from the start, and she’s thrilled to have someone so kind and, it must be said, devastatingly good-looking, to dance the attention on her that she never gets from her parents. Paddy is just too busy, and Fiona doesn’t care about her daughter anywhere near as much as she cares for her sons, especially her eldest, Frank. What’s a daughter, anyway, she muses later in the show, but a younger version of herself who’ll make all the same mistakes and endure all the same hurts and suffering as she did, because the life of a woman- in those days at least- is all pain and suffering and not a whole hell of a lot else. When Meggie is a child, Fr. Ralph keeps her dangling on a string like a little adoring puppet, probably because it’s great for his ego. He gives her a million mixed messages along the way, like, I do love you, Meggie, but of course I can’t marry you, because I’m married to God. A great cop-out for the holy man, and it never fails to unsettle and confuse Meggie. But when Meggie grows into the beautiful, ballsy woman she eventually becomes and starts demanding real, grown-up love things like sex and a proper relationship and even marriage, Fr. Ralph finds it a lot trickier to come up with reasons why they can’t be together, usually falling back on his love of God and the Church to keep the red-blooded but frustrated young woman at bay, while never releasing her altogether from his thrall. Bit dog-in-the-manger, that. But Meggie won’t be messed about forever. She even flounces off to Queensland and endures a horrible marriage to the sheep-shearing, cane-cutting emotionally constipated he-man Luke O’Neill- played by Bryan Brown- to show Fr. Ralph just how ‘over’ him she is. You’re fooling no-one, Meggie Cleary O’Neill… Eventually, the love and physical attraction between Meggie and her padre will be denied no longer. It overflows in a long-overdue explosion of honest-to-goodness lust on a beautiful desert island, after which time the pair will never be the same again. It’s a time for decisions, for making one’s mind up, for putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. Who will Ralph choose, his God, or his Meggie…? Parallel to the love story is the almost meteoric rise of the ambitious Fr. Ralph up through the ranks of Mother Church, thanks to a legacy of doubtful morality. Christopher Plummer is witty and wise as Archbishop Vittorio, Ralph’s mentor in no less exalted a place than the Vatican itself. The clever, all-seeing Archbishop has designs on the Papacy and he plants the seeds of a similar ambition in Ralph. If Ralph was still just a humble and unknown cleric in the Australian outback, it might be easier to leave the priesthood for Meggie, but now he has the fabulous materialistic trappings of a religious career in Rome to lose if he decides to give up everything for love. Is it a case of I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that…? The beautiful legend of the actual ‘thorn-bird,’ probably made up, is so poignant it had me in floods of tears. Summer is the perfect time to watch this epic and awesome mini-series with the gorgeous theme tune by Henry Mancini. It’s got hardships, privations, outback fires and wild boar attacks on the one hand, and civilised Greek theatre, sex on the beach and Kissing the Archbishop’s Ring on the other. Lol. It’s only rated 12s, as there’s no nudity or swearing in it, so you can watch it with- most of- the family, and, if you’re looking to end July in a glorious blaze of doomed romance, it’ll do the job perfectly. Plus, as a nice little bonus, it features some serious members of Hollywood royalty in it too, the stars of such classic films as DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE ROBE, SPARTACUS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Ideal for those lazy, hazy post-lockdown days…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: