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:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC. (1965) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

sound of music

RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S THE SOUND OF MUSIC. (1965) DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ROBERT WISE. BASED ON THE MEMOIRS OF MARIA VON TRAPP. MUSIC AND LYRICS BY RICHARD RODGERS (MUSIC) AND OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN THE SECOND (LYRICS).

STARRING JULIE ANDREWS, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, RICHARD HAYDN, PEGGY WOOD AND ELEANOR PARKER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,

Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens,

Brown paper packages tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favourite things.

………………………………………………….

When the dog bites and the bee stings

And I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favourite things

And then I don’t feel so bad.’

The sight of a nun with a guitar gives me the willies, straight up. Reminds me of Fourth Year in secondary school when Sister Assumpta, nicknamed ‘Stumpy’ for her lack of height inches, tried to teach me to play the guitar after school. After only two lessons, I was expelled forever from these after-school jamborees for Crimes Against Music. Well, we can’t all be good at everything. Music’s loss was writing’s gain, lol.

Anyway, there’s a nun with a guitar in the multi-award-winning THE SOUND OF MUSIC, set in the last days of the 1930s. Her name is Maria, she’s wonderfully played by Julie Andrews and she’s a source of constant frustration to the other nuns in the convent. Let’s just say she’s a little, well, different.

She sings all the time, not just in church, she’s late to everything- except meals- and she’s as scatty as a dotty old professor of physics who wastes a morning looking for the spectacles that were on his head the whole time.

Furthermore, she’s always up in the hills where she was brought up, singing and twirling and twirling and singing and generally acting like she’s taken leave of her remaining senses altogether.

The kindly and extraordinarily understanding Reverend Mother of this lovely little convent in Austria is convinced that Maria is not quite ready to take her final vows as a nun. She thinks that Maria hasn’t quite made up her mind what she wants to do with her life and she thinks that the girl might benefit from a spell back out in the world outside the convent walls once more.

With this in mind, she sends Maria to the Salzburg home of one Captain Von Trapp, a widowed and much decorated sea captain who is in urgent need of a governess for his seven children. Maria will be this governess. Off she duly repairs to the Captain’s magnificent abode.

She’s immediately struck by the tall, handsome and autocratic bearing of the Captain (Christopher Plummer), but she’s less impressed by the rather cold, super-regulated way that he treats his children as if they were little sailors under his command at sea. They march instead of play, they wear uniforms instead of normal kiddy clothes and they jump to attention when the Captain blows his shrill whistle.

Where’s the love? Where’s the heart? Where’s the music, the singing and dancing and, God forbid, the fun? The Captain does love his children very much but he seems unable to show them this love. Certainly it’s hidden beneath layers and layers of strict, in fact rigid, naval-style discipline, timetables, constant drilling and whistles. Always with the whistles.

Maria sets out to bring the heart, the music and the fun back to the sad Von Trapp household. Such things have been practically banned from the household by the Captain, because they remind him of his late wife and the pain of his bereavement.

That’s all well and good for Georg (inexplicably pronounced not as George but as Gay-org with two hard ‘g’s), but it’s surely a bit unfair on his children, isn’t it? After all, they lost their mother, didn’t they? Should they lose everything else that’s good and nice and fun in life as well?

The children, ranging from sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old Liesl to five-year-old Gretl, with Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta and Marta in between, all adore Maria and are more than willing to help her to restore the fun and games to their heretofore excessively regimented lives. With Maria encouraging them, they play to their hearts’ content, they sing and dance and run and climb trees and fall in the lake and get filthy dirty and soaking wet as kids are meant to do.

The Captain, though he won’t admit it, is enchanted by Maria, by the way she dispenses with rules and silly whistles and just whole-heartedly throws herself into loving the children and being there for them in a way that previous governesses were unable to comprehend.

There’s an immediate attraction between the two adults that quite flusters Maria and flummoxes the Captain. Who knows if they’d have ever done anything about it if it hadn’t been for a fly in the ointment in the form of the marriage-minded Baroness Schraeder? Marriage-minded for herself and the Captain, that is, not for Maria and the Captain, goodness me no. This one’s purely all out for Number One. 

The Baroness is the Captain’s girlfriend at first and then his fiancée. The children and Maria are deeply unhappy at the thought of the Captain marrying the Baroness. She’s blonde, attractive, uber-sophisticated and super-rich, but she’s cold and superficial also and probably older than the Captain.

She knows very little about children (‘Have you ever heard of a marvellous invention called boarding school?’ she says slyly to family friend Uncle Max) but her worldly-wise eagle eyes spot immediately the mutual attraction between Gay-org and the couldn’t-be-less-sophisticated-if-she-tried Maria. I love it when the Baroness says to Maria:

‘Come on now love, we’re both women, who are ya kidding? Let us not pretend that we don’t notice it when a guy is making eyes at us.’ Or words to that effect…!

The Baroness isn’t the only fly in Gay-org and Maria’s ointment. It’s the time of Nazism and the Third Reich and Hitler has just Anschlussed Austria to Germany, much to the seeming delight of most of the Austrian populace. Well, they lined the streets of Austria cheering for Hitler’s troops and they carpeted the Nazis’ path with flowers, didn’t they?

Anyway, Gay-org is at least one Austrian who is virulently opposed to Nazism and he’s brave enough to speak his mind on the subject. When, by virtue of his status as a naval war hero and his naval expertise, he’s given an important commission in the navy of the Third Reich, he finds himself with only two hard choices.

He can accept the commission for the sake of his family’s safety, but to go along with Nazi beliefs and ideology would sicken his stomach. Or he can throw the commission back in Hitler’s (represented locally by Gauleiter Herr Zeller) face and risk bringing the wrath of the powerful Third Reich down on his own and his childrens’- and Maria’s- heads. What to do? Richer men than he, who might have thought they were safe by virtue of their position, probably fell afoul of Hitler’s terrible regime…

The scenery and the songs are to die for. The hills are alive with the sound of music indeed. I love the clever lyrics and puppetry of ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ and I cried my eyes out when Gay-org sang ‘Edelweiss,’ with the poignant last line of ‘Bless my homeland forever,’ at Uncle Max’s precious folk music festival.

The Reverend Mother is an absolute boss when she belts out ‘Climb every mountain’ in an effort to show Maria that sometimes you have to work really fucking hard for what you want, lol. You go, girl.

It’s sad when Liesl’s childhood beau Rolph has morphed into a fully-fledged-and-indoctrinated member of the Hitler Youth, and the scenes in the beautiful Abbey crypt are nail-bitingly tense.

I only saw this film properly, from beginning to end, for the first time yesterday, but it’s going on my Christmas to-watch-every-year list from now on. All together now: ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray, a drop of golden sun…!’

The Von Trapp Children:

Liesl: Charmian Carr.

Friedrich: Nicholas Hammond.

Louisa: Heather Menzies.

Kurt: Duane Chase.

Brigitta: Angela Cartwright.

Marta: Debbie Turner.

Gretl: Kym Karath.

Did any of ’em grow up to have eating disorders or take their clothes off for nudie mags or porn flicks? Hang on, I’m looking ’em all up now…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. 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, womens’ 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:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor