Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What, No Red-Blonde Actresses In All the Land?

After finding an old-school cover edition of The Thorn Birds at Costco, I've been rereading this epic novel over the past few days. I absolutely love Colleen McCullough's voice and writing style: the story goes down like a smooth, creamy milkshake.

I remember watching the mini-series starring Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain. I don't recall if I first read the book, then watched the mini-series or vice versa back in the day. I do know that having watched the mini-series is seriously affecting my current re-reading of the book because I cannot get out of my head the images of the two actors playing Meggie and Fthr. Ralph. As pretty as Rachel is and as handsome as Richard was in his younger days, neither actor fits the description from the book, and it's very distracting for me.

Father Ralph de Bricassart is described as an incredibly beautiful man. This handsomeness is a great source of most of his misery since it incites in Mary Carson a lust so overwhelming that she becomes the world's most evil spurned-woman when he turns down her advances. No matter to her that he's a priest or that he's forty some odd years younger than she is. She wants the dude and his refusal to accept her invitation into her bed results in some major life-long suffering on his part.

[Sidebar to say that Mary Carson's lust for the much younger Fthr. Ralph is a serious Eeew! moment in the book, only slightly more creepy than the fact that Fthr. Ralph ultimately ends up falling in love with the girl he meets when she's only nine and he's in his late twenties. For crying out loud, the man explains menstruation to the girl and then ends up sleeping with her. Still, it's a great story!]

Now, Richard Chamberlain was definitely no slag in his youth. His head is a bit over-large, and his eyes are so widely spread I find it distracting, but he's a nice-enough looking guy. Even so, I simply can't make the connect between the actor playing Ralph and his description from the actual book:
In all her life [Mary Carson] could not remember seeing a better-looking man, nor one who used his beauty in quite the same way. He had to be aware of how he looked: the height and the perfect proportions of his body, the fine aristocratic features, the way every physical element had been put together with a degree of care about the appearance of the finished product God lavished on few of His creations. From the loose black curls of his head and the startling blue of his eyes to the small, slender hands and feet, he was perfect.
Where are the loose black curls? Rich's hair is most definitely brown with not so much as a wave much less a curl. Sure, the eyes are blue. But I don't see in this face the pure beauty that Fthr. Ralph is supposed to possess. Rich's handsomeness is more of the rugged, manly type rather than a slender, aristocratic beauty.

As for Meggie, Rachel Ward and Sydney Penny (who plays Meggie as a child) are certainly attractive in their own right. But they don't even come close to matching the description we get of Meggie from Fthr. Raph's POV:

The sweetest, the most-adorable little girl he had ever seen; hair of a color which defies description, not red and not gold, a perfect fusion of both. And looking up at him with silver-grey eyes of such a lambent purity, like melted jewels.

Rachel Ward's hair is at best auburn. Sydney's isn't even on the same planet as "red-gold". Both actresses have chocolate-brown eyes. I do give the casting directors credit for finding a child-actress that looks as if she might one day look like the grown-up actress, but that's all the points they get. I just find it hard to believe they couldn't find a single pair of strawberry-blonde, grey-eyed actresses in all of the land to play the child and adult Meggie, or at the very least, ones who had light eyes rather than dark brown.

Now, I'm not stupid. I know that ever since the first brilliant flash of inspiration that led whomever to realize books could be made into movies (or mini-series) that there have been actors and actresses who've deviated completely from their literary counterparts as far as appearances go. Heck, even romance novel book covers get it wrong a lot of the time when it comes to hair and/or eye color. But it's rare that something like this affects me when I read the story. Usually I tune out any external influences and let my imagination fill in the blanks using the written descriptions as a starting point.

For some reason, I simply cannot stop picturing Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward as I'm reading this book. This time, I guess the mini-series trumps the original.


Anonymous said...

It's no wonder you're a "wanna be writer" rather then a real writer. The movie The Thorn Birds is "BASED" on the book. It's never been said it's "EACTLY" like the book. That is how it is for all movies that are BASED on a book.

Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward were perfect for their parts. I can't imagine anyone else playing those parts.

Recently Colleen McCullough attempted to have The Thorn Birds as a musical. It failed big time. There isn't any movie they could ever do to out do The Thorn Birds. It's perfect from opening to closing credits.

Now quit trying to put the 2 as equal. They are not equal. They were never meant to be equal.

Anonymous said...
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Lynn M said...

Ignoring your nasty personal comment about my writer status (!), never in my post did I say that I expected the movie version to be an exact duplicate of the book. In fact, I believe I even admitted that MANY times movie versions differ from the original book in terms of character descriptions. I get that.

My post was an expression of my wish that the makers of the Thorn Birds miniseries had tried to get a little bit closer to the physical descriptions of Fthr. Ralph and Meggie that the book offered and that I find it hard to believe that this was an impossible task given the number of actors and actresses out there.

While some movies may not use actors that fit the book descriptions, some movies do it very well. Perfect example is the Harry Potter movies. Dan Radcliff, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson look very much like the Harry, Ron and Hermione that JK Rowlings describes in the books. It's do-able.

I'm not judging the quality of the miniseries. I'm just stating that having watched the miniseries now creates a disconnect for me when reading the book because of the actors cast in the movie.

JustMe said...

I know this is close to a year later. But I just found this and SO have to agree with you. My cousin and I also have discussed this before. So much is made of Meggie's hair and eyes in the book - her family marvels over it (a perfect fusion of red and gold), Fiona curls it every day, the other little girls are jealous in school because Meggie has 'far and away the most beautiful hair in school' AND she get curls every day rather than braids. Her brother Frank admires it, Luke admires it, Ralph admires it. The same with her eyes, grey just like her mother's but sweeter, like 'melted jewels', etc etc etc. And fair skin that never freckled.

It's not like they mentioned in passing she's a red/gold head and has grey eyes. It's very much a big part of the story. So we get Sydney Penny who has dark brown hair, brown eyes and dark complexion. ARGH!!!