THE THORN BIRDS: THE MISSING YEARS. (1996) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


THE THORN BIRDS: THE MISSING YEARS. (A 1996 CBS MINI-SERIES.) DIRECTED BY KEVIN JAMES DOBSON. BASED ON THE BOOK BY COLLEEN MCCULLOUGH. STARRING RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN, AMANDA DONOHUE AND MAXIMILIAN SCHELL.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This made-for-television mini-series supposedly fills in the gaps left by the original mini-series, the phenomenally successful THORN BIRDS. In the original show, Meggie Cleary and the long-time love of her life, the handsome Fr. Ralph de Bricassart- yes, he’s a priest!- make love for the first time. Then, the action rather frustratingly cuts to ‘nineteen years later’ in the plot, when Meggie has two grown-up children; a daughter, Justine, by her husband Luke, and a son, Dane, by her beloved Fr. Ralph.

In THE MISSING YEARS, we start off when Dane is about ten and Justine a year or two older. Meggie left her he-man husband, sheep-shearer and cane-cutter extraordinaire Luke O’Neill, before Dane was born, because he promised her love and an equal marriage and then fecked off to cut cane and hang out with his boozy, womanising mates. All this while Meggie languishes with a family who need a housemaid. Quite the comedown for the lovely daughter of the Cleary clan, masters of Drogheda!

Now, Meggie is back home on the family ranch of Drogheda with her two children. Luke O’ Neill comes back, after all these years, at rather an opportune time. That part of Australia has been experiencing a two-year drought, and the ranch is desperately in need of a man about the place. Luke promises to give Meggie everything she’s been ‘missing’ in the way of love and affection and sex all these long, lonely years, and Meggie succumbs. She’s only human, after all.

Her kids in particular are delighted. Justine, who has never really had her mother’s love because she’s ‘only’ Luke’s child, is hostile to Meggie and absolutely determined to become a daddy’s girl straightaway. Dane, who thinks he’s Luke’s son, is happy too to suddenly have a dad, though his desire to be a Catholic or ‘mick’ priest doesn’t sit well with his he-man ‘father.’ Wonder where he gets his priestly leanings, lol…?

Meanwhile, we see how Fr. Ralph has helped Jews to escape the wrath of Hitler during World War Two, even going so far as to shelter them in the underground caves beneath the Vatican. He behaves heroically and selflessly and gets no thanks from his superiors for it.

Remember the way Fr. Ralph and the Church somewhat dubiously inherited Mary Carson’s millions and the estate of Drogheda in the original mini-series? Well, now, for using Drogheda money to help the Jews, Fr. Ralph is ‘banished’ by the Church to Australia once more, supposedly to hold talks with the Australian government about taking in some of the displaced victims of the war.

Not much in the way of politics gets done as Fr. Ralph is enmeshed once more in his love for the beautiful and feisty Meggie Cleary and hers for him. Fr. Ralph’s being back in Oz bodes ill for the touching re-union of Meggie and Luke, and both Luke and Justine are furious to see him back there, taking up all of Meggie’s time and thoughts.

A really dirty custody battle ensues over the one child Meggie would be truly devastated to lose. She could get her son back in an instant by proclaiming to the world at large whose boy Dane really is, but not even Ralph knows this fact. Also, Ralph’s career as an Archbishop would be ruined by the stunning revelation. Who does Meggie love more, and who will she choose to save, Dane… or Ralph…?

Richard Chamberlain is the only actor from the original mini-series who appears in THE THORN BIRDS: THE MISSING YEARS. Rachel Ward as the original Meggie is replaced by Amanda ‘get your kit off’ Donohue, so for this reason I was expecting the sex scenes to be practically x-rated, lol.

But no, surprisingly the show keeps its lovely romantic-rather-than-smutty feel, with the love scenes taking place this time around in an isolated cabin in the Australian outback rather than on the dreamy shores of Matlock Island, where the besotted pair first made the wild, passionate love that resulted in a son, Dane.

Fr. Ralph has a pretty sweet deal going on for himself in this show, as in the original. Much as I love- and fancy him- as a character, he led poor old Mary Carson on something rotten, and used her legacy, the legacy which was rightfully meant for the Cleary family, Mary’s true relatives, to better himself and climb the ladder of success in his precious Church.

He’s kept Meggie on a string for years, enjoying her adulation and her hero-worship and even her body, but always pulling away from her in the end, saying that he loves God more than he loves her. How that must have stung Meggie, but there’s nothing much she can do about it. The heart wants what the heart wants, allegedly.

This 1996 show was criticised for its many inconsistencies and deviations from the original plot, but we’re not going to get into these inconsistencies here. They’re fun to spot when you watch it, though! It’s a different big house and ranch too, as the ‘sequel’ is filmed in Australia and not in California, where the original was made.

There’s no topping the original mini-series for romance and sheer romantic pain and longing, but I feel that this second mini-series holds its own, after a ropey start. It becomes really exciting once the whole Meggie-Luke-and-Ralph love triangle kicks off, and the fist-fight between Luke and Ralph is genuinely entertaining and nail-bitingly enjoyable to watch. Luke, damn you, you had it coming…! Enjoy the ‘sequel,’ if for no other reason than you get to hear Henry Mancini’s dreamy score again.

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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

THE THORN BIRDS: MINI-SERIES. (1983) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

NORTH AND SOUTH: THE EPIC MINI-SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

orry george

NORTH AND SOUTH: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. (1985, 1986 AND 1994) BASED ON THE BOOKS BY JOHN JAKES. STARRING MAINLY (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) THE DELICIOUS PATRICK SWAYZE, BUT THERE MIGHT POSSIBLY BE SOME OTHER PEOPLE IN THERE TOO.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is what I’m talking about. This is what I call a mini-series. A superb romantic and historical epic, it’s based on the three whopping great doorstops of books by John Jakes which must have set this guy up for life, they were so popular, probably mostly because of the mini-series.

Broadly, NORTH AND SOUTH, LOVE AND WAR and HEAVEN AND HELL tell the story of, respectively, the lead-up to America’s Civil War that set brother against brother and friend against friend; the Civil War itself; and then the grim, often depressing period of Reconstruction that followed the war and takes us a bit into cowboy-and-Indian times as well.

More specifically, though, the books and mini-series tell the story of two families, the Hazards and the Mains, who find themselves on opposing sides of the war when it kicks off in 1861. And, more particularly again, it’s the tale of two men from these families, George Hazard and Orry Main, who form lifelong friendships at Westpoint military college, but their friendship is tested in many ways over the years both because of the war and the fundamental differences between their families, the differences that started the war in the first place.

The Mains own a huge cotton plantation in the Deep South. They are filthy rich, live lovely gracious lifestyles characterised by fabulous elaborate dresses for the women and mint juleps and political chit-chat on the lawn for the men. They have lovely accents and call everyone ‘suh,’ as in, ‘Suh, I say, suh, I fear that your necktie offends me and I demand satisfaction, suh!’

The demanding of satisfaction might be preceded by a harmless but infinitely insulting glove-slap to the kisser. If you don’t come back with the appropriate response, you’ll certainly be branded a coward for life, and who wants that…?

The Mains are like the O’Haras and the Wilkeses from GONE WITH THE WIND. Despite their being much more enjoyable to watch than the duller Northerners or ‘damn Yankees,’ to use the correct historical term, they have one major flaw. They keep slaves, black slaves without whom they could not run their precious cotton plantations, from which comes all their money.

The Mains of South Carolina pride themselves on treating their slaves fairly and nicely, but when a man can be hanged or branded with fire on the face for trying to run away from his ‘owner,’ then you know there’s a problem with the whole damn system. People are human beings, not cattle. Even cattle themselves don’t deserve to be treated like that.

And the poor female slaves are having the shit raped out of them as well by the white overseers like the horrible Salem Jones. What do the plantation owners do about this? They neither know nor care about it, my friends.

The term ‘Gone With The Wind’ referred to the ‘Southern way of life,’ gracious, easy-going, privileged, cultured, genteel and all the rest of it, disappearing for ever in the Civil War, trampled underfoot by dusty, nasty Yankee boots. But a way of life that has so many basic human rights violations as its bedrock could never be permitted to exist indefinitely.

Orry’s mother, played by SPARTACUS actress Jean Simmons, spends a lot of time in the film mooning over photo albums that represent this lost way of life. She’s mourning its loss, weeping for it night and day, but, again, that way of life was based on slave-owning and the slaves doing all the work while the Southerners sat around, being genteel in their fabulous mansions. Again, how could this last…?

The Hazards up North (Pennsylvania) make their money, not from genteel cotton, but from vulgar industry, in the form of Hazard Iron. On the plus side, they don’t use slave labour to run their factories for them for nothing.

George (played by James Read) and Orry clash continually on the issue of the Mains using slave labour, and it causes such contention between them that they have to agree to disagree on the touchy subject and steer clear of it if they want to remain friends.

The dreamy Patrick Swayze plays the handsome and dashing Orry Main, the typical courteous, gallant, chivalrous Southern gentleman who would never permit a lady to step through a puddle while he had a coat to spread across it first. But he also owned slaves. Unfortunately, we can’t forget about that.

Orry is desperately in love with Madeline Fabray La Motte, played by English beauty Lesley-Anne Down. Madeline has been married off by her father to the abusive Justin La Motte, brilliantly played by David Carradine of the Carradine acting dynasty.

Justin is a brutal slave-owner, who revels in the violence he’s allowed to get away with just because he’s a rich white Southern male slave-owner. He hits Madeline, he whips his slaves and he wants Virginia to secede from the Union, the one bit of the Civil War I always find hard to understand. I think it’s a bit like Britain leaving the EU, but you might want to check up on that for yourselves, lol.

Orry and Madeline have a super-exciting, super-sexy secret affair for donkey’s years behind Justin’s back, during which time Orry never so much as looks as another woman and positively lives for their sexy-time trysts in the old abandoned church. Justin uses that same church for his dalliances with slave-girls. If the old deserted church gets any busier, some sort of booking or queuing system will have to be worked out.

George, meanwhile, is stuck with goody-goody Constance (Wendy Kilbourne: MIDNIGHT CALLER with Gary Cole), whose dreadful ‘Oirish’ accent on the show attracted a fair amount of ridicule at the time. PS, Guess who married each other after meeting on the set? You guessed it; James Read and Wendy Kilbourne, lol!

George’s brother, Stanley (Jonathan Frakes: STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION), has lovely eyes but he’s fiddling the books at Hazard Iron with the help of his ball-breaking wife, Isabel, who is played by a different actress in each of the three segments.

George’s brother Billy (he morphs from Cary Guffey, who played little Barry Guiler from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, 1977, into Parker Stevenson from THE HARDY BOYS in the second segment) marries Orry’s milksop sister Brett, which proves to be extremely problematic once the war kicks off, as their families are each on different sides.

George and Orry have one very interesting sister apiece. Orry’s sibling Ashton (Terri Garber) is a great character. She would sell her whole family down the river for a diamond necklace. She’s a total social-climbing, money-grabbing bitch who marries for social advancement but carries on a sizzling affair with Elkanah Bent (Philip Casnoff) behind her politician husband’s back.

Bent is a short man with a Napoleon complex (Say ‘I am a military genius, you can’t kill me!’ in a Southern accent!) who has been Orry and George’s bitter enemy since their Westpoint days. Check out Bent’s duel with Orry at Westpoint. Bent doesn’t have a prayer against a bona fide Southern gentleman, much to the amusement of those present. Orry’s lovely floppy hair in this section deserves a credit all of its own. Guess who just stepped out of a salon…?

Anyway, the evil Bent won’t rest until he’s created the ’empire’ for himself he knows he deserves. He uses Ashton to help him achieve this, and if he can take down Orry Main at some point along the way, so much the better.

Bent is pathologically jealous of Orry for his wealth and his sense of Southern entitlement, and his hatred for Orry twists and contorts his judgement till he can’t even see straight, never mind think things out rationally and logically, so you just know he’s gonna come a massive cropper in the end.

George’s sister Virgilia (Kirstie Alley: CHEERS) is an Abolitionist, someone who wants to free the slaves. Her marriage to a handsome slave called Grady (‘You wants to lay with me, don’t you?’) causes great embarrassment to her family, and her disastrous affair with the oily Congressman Sam Greene (David Ogden Stiers) will see poor Virgilia finally come to the end of her rope. Well-meaning but ill-fated, that’s our Virgilia. Terrific character, though.

NORTH AND SOUTH had a terrific theme tune and really long credits featuring little drawings of the characters, and it gave old Hollywood greats such as Jean Simmons, James Stewart, Robert Mitchum and Olivia De Havilland (if you thought she was old THEN, lol…!) another stab at the brass ring.

Erica Gimpel (Coco from FAME) and Forest Whitaker both play slaves. Linda Evans, Krystle Carrington from DYNASTY, and Johnny Cash both have cameos, as do Morgan Fairchild (Chandler’s bitchy mother from FRIENDS), Peter O’Toole, Robert Wagner, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Kelly and Nancy Marchand (Tony’s Ma from THE SOPRANOS).

It’s truly a magnificent sweeping epic, romantic and historical, and you accidentally pick up a fair bit of info about the Civil War as well. Hal Holbrook (THE FOG, THE SOPRANOS) plays Abe Lincoln for the North, and Lloyd Bridges is Jefferson Davis for the South. All the famous Generals from both sides- Sherman, Grant, Lee, etc. – get a look-in too. Grey uniforms bad, blue uniforms good, in a nutshell, is another way of looking at it, lol.

The battle scenes used real Civil War re-enact-ers, who must have been (excuse vulgarity) jizzing themselves big-time at the thought of acting out all the well-known battles for a big prestigious mini-series like this. I bawled my eyes out when Lee surrendered to Sherman in such a staunch, dignified manner, because that scene is so genuinely moving, but then I remembered about the slaves and I hardened my heart…

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 Film-Making. 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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

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https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

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