The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years is a CBS miniseries that aired in 1996.
Directed by Kevin James Dobson, it tells the story of the 19 years that are unaccounted for between Dane’s birth and Ralph’s return to Australia in the original 1983 ABC miniseries, The Thorn Birds.
It’s ten years after the birth of Dane, and Meghann “Meggie” O’Neill (Amanda Donohoe) is forced to run Drogheda basically on her own, since all her brothers went off to fight in World War II. To make matters worse, a two–year drought has struck the area. One day, Meggie’s estranged husband, Luke, arrives on Drogheda and begs forgiveness. Meggie, lonely, in need of a man to run the ranch and to be a father for her children, reluctantly takes Luke back, and she becomes pregnant once again.
Father Ralph de Bricassart (Richard Chamberlain) decides to become a full-time priest to fulfil his deep love for God. He has been using his church in Rome as a haven for Jewish war refugees. After Ralph uses some of Mary Carson’s estate money to send a young orphan to America, the church “punishes” him by forcing him to return to Drogheda to guard the church’s bequeathed property and to convince the Australian government to accept more refugees.
Father Ralph arrives in Australia unannounced and Luke is not pleased to see him. Luke demands Meggie move with him immediately to a ramshackle cabin on the farm he purchased, just to get Meggie away from Ralph. When Meggie resists, Luke strikes her, causing her to miscarry.
Meggie decides she can never return to Luke, but Luke declares he only returned for Dane, whom he thinks is his son. Meggie takes Luke to court for custody of Dane. The judge, a Protestant biased against Dane’s desire to be a priest, awards custody to Luke, with Meggie refusing to ruin Ralph by announcing Dane is his and not Luke’s son. She decides to avoid scandal, confronting Ralph with the fact that he loves God more than her, that he will always be devoted to a greater good. She has raised her son without the knowledge of who his father is.
The rains finally come, and Ralph and Meggie do their best to round up the animals before the flood comes. Unable to make it back to Drogheda in the downpour, the two find refuge in a small cabin, where a night of romance ensues.
Meggie’s mother, Fee, in a last-ditch attempt to reclaim Dane, confronts Luke with the truth – Dane is not his son but the son of Father Ralph. Luke swears never to reveal this fact for fear of losing Meggie and his children to Ralph forever.
Luke confronts Ralph and starts a fight, declaring if Ralph can beat him he can have Dane. Ralph defeats Luke, and torn and bleeding, Luke returns Dane to Meggie.
- In the original miniseries, the outback scenes were shot in southern California.
- In The Missing Years, the outback scenes were shot in the actual outback of Australia.
- The Missing Years was generally panned by critics and fans of the original miniseries for being unfaithful to the book.
- Adding to the dismay was the fact only one actor, Richard Chamberlain, returned to reprise his role as Ralph de Bricassart from the original miniseries.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Kevin James Dobson.
- Producer(s): Jeffrey M. Hayes, Darryl Sheen, David Stevens, David L. Wolper, and Mark Wolper.
- Writer(s): Colleen McCullough (novel) and David Stevens.
- Music: Garry McDonald and Laurie Stone.
- Cinematography: Ross Berryman.
- Editor(s): Stephen Butler and Philip Reid.
- Production: The Wolper Organisation, Village Roadshow Pictures Television, and Warner Bros. Television.
- Distributor(s): CBS.
- Release Date: 11 February 1996.
- Running time: 178 minutes.
- Country: US and Australia.
- Language: English.