I'm going out on a limb here by admitting until this past weekend, I had never read nor seen The Thorn Birds. I knew it was one of those beloved mini-series/stories that romance readers hold fondly in their hearts, and that Richard Chamberlain played a priest who had a love affair. That was it. So when I was sick Friday and Saturday, I curled up on the couch to watch it, in hopes I'd see what everybody loved and fall in love with it myself.
Wow. I couldn't have been more wrong.
I hated it. Well, maybe hate is a strong word. For the overall production and story, it was okay. What I hated, what made my skin absolutely crawl, was the so-called love story between Father Ralph and Meggie. It's not the performers' fault. It's the story's. I can honestly say, I just don't get why more people aren't completely creeped out by this relationship.
I have zero problem with priests battling their sexual demons. I'm not religious, I've written more than a few of my own religious figures who give up their calling for love, and frankly, I find forced celibacy a ridiculous, antiquated notion.
My issues arise with the fact that theirs is not a healthy relationship. In the slightest. Ralph forms what is obviously an intense relationship with a ten-year-old girl, and while he doesn't encourage or acknowledge any physical interaction until she turns eighteen, he has still spent the last eight years making himself the center of her world in a lot of ways. The feelings she develops for him in return are based on a child's adoration. There's definitely the feel of an Electra complex going on there, because her fixation on him never goes away. And I'm sorry, I just can't find romance in any relationship where one of the parties is only ten years old and the other is a fully grown adult who is very well aware of his physical appeal (because everyone under the sun needs to tell Father Ralph how beautiful he is, including Vittorio, Ralph's superior and friend) when it launches, whether it's platonic or not. In the movie, there is never any doubt Father Ralph has supplanted her own parents' role in her life. How can that ever be healthy?
Mary Carson, who is presented as a bitter old woman, sees the truth, and yet she's completely dismissed as being vindictive and jealous of their youth. We're supposed to dislike her for being the only one to recognize how intense and inappropriate it turns into? Nope, don't buy it.
All of that is a shame, because without that element, it's actually a very moving idea about mothers, their children, and the struggles between them as mothers fight their own feelings versus those they should have toward their kids. It's just too bad it's locked within this so-called love story.