By Tom Keogh
The second most-watched miniseries (after Roots)
of all time, The Thorn Birds was originally broadcast in 1983 and
captivated viewers with its story of a lifelong conflict between the
spirit and the flesh. Adapted from the bestselling novel by Colleen
McCullough, the production stars Richard Chamberlain as a Catholic priest
named Ralph de Bricassart, whose life in Australia between 1920 and 1962
is one long torment as he pines for his lover, Meggie Cleary (Rachel
Ward), while seeking advancement in his clergyman career.
The passion and the guilt make for compelling drama, but a stellar cast
of supporting players adds muscle to the proceedings: Barbara Stanwyck
(who won an Emmy for her work as Meggie's tough aunt), Jean Simmons,
Richard Kiley, Christopher Plummer, Bryan Brown, and Mare Winningham.
Chamberlain, who was something of the king of the miniseries form at the
time, is very good in the lead, as is the often-underrated Ward. Their
affair is indeed irresistible to watch, which proves to be true, too, of
the story's thick weave of church politics, forbidden desire, social
change over decades, and family secrets.