The Thorn Birds
The Thorn Birds (miniseries).jpg
DVD cover
Written byCarmen Culver
Lee Stanley
Colleen McCullough (novel)
Directed byDaryl Duke
Theme music composerHenry Mancini
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes4
Executive producers
Production locations
CinematographyBill Butler
Running time467 minutes
Production companies
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Original networkABC
Picture formatColor
Audio formatMono
Original releaseMarch 27 (1983-03-27) –
March 30, 1983 (1983-03-30)
Followed byThe Thorn Birds: The Missing Years (1996)

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, Piper Laurie, Jean Simmons, Richard Kiley, Bryan Brown, Mare Winningham and Philip Anglim. It was directed by Daryl Duke and based on the 1977 novel of the same name 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.


Further information: The Thorn Birds § Plot


Actor Role
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
Barry Corbin Pete
Holly Palance Miss Carmichael
John de Lancie Alastair MacQueen
Allyn Ann McLerie Mrs. Smith
Richard Venture Harry Gough
Stephanie Faracy Judy
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 and 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.[1][2]

The role of Meggie Cleary became the most sought after role of the production, and was considered the role of a lifetime. Many actresses campaigned and auditioned for the role over a long period of pre-production. British actress Lynne Frederick was one of many actresses who heavily campaigned for the role. Frederick even dyed her hair red to showcase herself. Other actresses who auditioned for the part included Michelle Pfeiffer, Jane Seymour, Olivia Newton-John, and Kim Basinger.


Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
1984 Young Artist Awards Best Young Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie Sydney Penny Won
People's Choice Awards Best TV Miniseries The Thorn Birds Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film Won [5]
Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Richard Chamberlain Won
Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Rachel Ward Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Richard Kiley Won
Bryan Brown Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Barbara Stanwyck Won
Piper Laurie Nominated
Jean Simmons Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Limited Series David L. Wolper, Edward Lewis and Stan Margulie Nominated [6]
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special Richard Chamberlain Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special Barbara Stanwyck Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special Richard Kiley Won
Bryan Brown Nominated
Christopher Plummer Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special Jean Simmons Won
Piper Laurie Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or a Special Daryl Duke (for "Part II") Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series or a Special Robert MacKichan, Jerry Adams (for "Part I") Won
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or a Special Bill Butler (for "Part I") Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Limited Series or a Special William Travilla Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup Del Acevedo (for "Part IV") Won
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Limited Series or a Special (Dramatic Underscore) Henry Mancini (for "Part I") Nominated
Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series or a Special Carroll Timothy O'Meara (for "Part III") Won
Robert F. Shugrue (for "Part I") Nominated

Home media

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.


A followup titled The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years was broadcast by CBS in 1996. It tells the story of the 19 years unaccounted for in the original miniseries.


  1. ^ Mann, Roderick (8 July 1980). "RYAN O'NEAL: HOOKED ON 'THORN BIRDS' AND FARRAH". Los Angeles Times. p. g1.
  2. ^ Mann, Roderick (14 Feb 1980). "REDFORD IS READING 'THORN BIRDS' SCRIPT". Los Angeles Times. p. i1.
  3. ^ Kelly, Peggy (16 May 2012). "Railroad Plaza, Depot gleeful when filled with cast of 'Glee'". Santa Paula Times. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Archives".
  5. ^ "The 41st Annual Golden Globe Awards (1984)". Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  6. ^ "The Thorn Birds". Retrieved 27 February 2022.