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.
The novel begins in New Zealand on December 8, 1915, Meggie Cleary's fourth birthday. The miniseries begins in Australia five years later with the Cleary's newly arrived from New Zealand.
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 only once, where the audience learns in 1954 that Frank had died some time while in prison. 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 miniseries, Meggie 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 and bewildered.
Meggie has 8 brothers in the novel. In the miniseries, only 5 appear (Frank, Bob, Jack, Stuey and Hal), but Fee mentions to Father Ralph soon after arriving in Australia that she lost two other sons.
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 soon after Dane's funeral. In the novel his heart slowly gives out while the room goes into a blur.
The miniseries ends with Ralph's death. The novel continues with Justine's and Rainer's story.
|Richard Chamberlain||Ralph de Bricassart|
|Rachel Ward||Meggie Cleary (as an adult)|
|Sydney Penny||Meggie Cleary (as a child)|
|Barbara Stanwyck||Mary Carson|
|Richard Kiley||Paddy Cleary|
|Jean Simmons||Fee Cleary|
|Bryan Brown||Luke O'Neill|
|Mare Winningham||Justine O'Neill|
|Philip Anglim||Dane O'Neill|
|Ken Howard||Rainer Hartheim|
|John Friedrich||Frank Cleary|
|Dwier Brown||Stuart Cleary (as an adult)|
|Vidal Peterson||Stuart Cleary (as a child)|
|Piper Laurie||Anne Mueller|
|Earl Holliman||Luddie Mueller|
|Christopher Plummer||Archbishop Vittorio di Contini-Verchese|
|Brett Cullen||Bob Cleary|
|Stephen W. Burns||Jack Cleary|
|Holly Palance||Miss Carmichael|
|John de Lancie||Alastair MacQueen|
|Allyn Ann McLerie||Mrs. Smith|
|Richard Venture||Harry Gough|
|Antoinette Bower||Sarah MacQueen|
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.
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Makeup||Del Acevedo||Won|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Movie||Robert MacKichan, Jerry Adams||Won|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Film Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie||Carroll Timothy O'Meara||Won|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie||Richard Chamberlain||Nominated|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie||Barbara Stanwyck||Won|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Miniseries or Movie||The Thorn Birds||Nominated|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie||Bryan Brown||Nominated|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie||Richard Kiley||Won|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie||Christopher Plummer||Nominated|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie||Piper Laurie||Nominated|
|1983||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie||Jean Simmons||Won|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film||Richard Chamberlain||Won|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film||Rachel Ward||Nominated|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Miniseries or Television Film||The Thorn Birds||Won|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film||Bryan Brown||Nominated|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film||Richard Kiley||Won|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film||Piper Laurie||Nominated|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film||Jean Simmons||Nominated|
|1984||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television||Barbara Stanwyck||Won|
|1984||People's Choice Awards||Best TV Miniseries||The Thorn Birds||Won|
|1984||Young Artist Awards||Best Young Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie||Sydney Penny||Won|
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.