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The Missing Years
on 28 November 2007
I have watched "The Missing Years" three times in the past two weeks and found myself enjoying it more each time. At first I was sceptical. I could not see how a new writer and new cast,apart from Richard Chamberlain as Archbishop de Bricassart,could possibly follow Colleen McCullough's much loved book "The Thorn Birds" and the mini series of the same name. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself watching the "new" Meggie,Luke, Justine and Dane without comparison. Simon Westaway's Luke has a much bigger part this time and he played it with a mixture of deviousness and thuggery. Olivia Burnette as Justine, always believing herself to be unloved,brings subtle intellect to her part. Her brother Dane,played by Zach English,plays his part well too, but I would have liked him to have more of the physical characteristics of his father. More of the young Ralph's physical and spiritual beauty.
I have to say though, that I thought that Maximilian Schell in the role of Cardinal Vittorio and Julia Blake as Fee were interpreted very differently. Those who watched the mini series would have enjoyed Christopher Plummer's Vittorio. He would not have berated Ralph over the refugee finances as Maxmilian Schell's Vittorio did, but would have sat him down beside him and gently purred "my dear Ralph, we would like you to continue your good work with the refugees. They will need to be resettled in other countries, and as Australia has shown an interest we would like you to go there and negotiate with their government. And while you are there I think that you should perhaps call at Drogheda and see what problems are being caused by the severe drought".
In the same way it was hard to reconcile the two Fees. Jean Simmons was brilliant as the careworn wife and mother in the mini series. Julia Blake gives us a brisker and more attractive Fee, and dare I say it, an interfering and meddling one. She goes as far as telling Ralph that she has known all about him and Meggie, and later, when Luke wins custody of Dane, she lets him easily guess who really is Dane's father. They make a pact not to tell Ralph, but Luke picks a fight with him. Despite being a priest and a non-fighter, Ralph summons strength and brings Dane home to Drogheda.
"The Missing Years" is obviously about the continuing relationship between Meggie and Ralph. She is a mother of two children now and he is an Archbishop. Meggie has just gone back to Luke and the O'Neills seem set to become a family for the first time. But, as readers of the book will know, Ralph has a tendency to turn up at crucial times in Meggie's life. He had no choice but to return to Drogheda, but was hoping to keep some distance between them. But that was not to be. When they meet again for the first time after ten years, we have the wonderful scene at the railway platform. Ralph has just alighted from the train and when the smoke and steam dissipate he sees Meggie a short distance ahead of him. She had been seeing her mother Fee off to Sydney. They just stand and stare. This is the first time that Ralph has met the "new" Meggie. I do believe that Amanda Donohoe has taken on the challenging part extremely well. She brings compassion and maturity to the part and I have no difficulty in accepting her as Meggie.
The remainder of the film takes place at Drogheda, and this gives Ralph and Meggie opportunities to meet and talk. They rekindle their passion in a remote shack during a fierce storm. Ralph offers to give up the priesthood, and although Meggie has waited all her life to hear him say this, she tells him that this is not what he really wants. In the end, he goes back to Sydney and the refugee negotiations renewed in their love. He sees it as a blessing and not a burden. Richard Chamberlain continues to play his part to perfection. Although he is older now, he is as charismatic and professional as ever.
I can recommend "The Missing Years" to all who have enjoyed the book and mini series. Don't be put off by the fact that it has a different writer and cast. This can take some getting used to but maybe like me, a second or third viewing is need to appreciate the development of the story and the characters. I did enjoy it!