Born Free

Born Free (1966) is an Open Road Films Ltd./Columbia Pictures feature film starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers as Joy and George Adamson, a real-life couple who raised an orphaned lion cub to adulthood, and released her into the wilds of Kenya. The screenplay, written by blacklisted Hollywood writer Lester Cole (under the pseudonym "Gerald L.C. Copley"), was based upon Joy Adamson's 1960 non-fictional book Born Free. The film was directed by James H. Hill and produced by Sam Jaffe and Paul Radin. Born Free, and its musical score by John Barry, won numerous awards.

Plot and cast

The film opens with the death of a Kenyan villager by lion attack. The area is patrolled by Senior Game Warden George Adamson (Bill Travers), whose duties entail dealing with animals dangerous to either crops or humans. In company with his men, he tracks the lion and kills him. Sadly, the lion's mate attacks, and the men are forced to kill her as well. Adamson carries the couple's three cubs back to his wife Joy (Virginia McKenna). The smallest of the cubs is her favorite and she names her Elsa, after a childhood schoolmate. Several scenes involve the mischievous adventures of the cubs around the house with the Adamsons, and their servants Nuru (Peter Lukoye) and Makkede (Omar Chambati) having much ado following the lively trio.

The Adamsons tend the cubs to young lionhood, and, when the time comes, the two largest are sent to the Rotterdam Zoo, while Elsa remains with Joy. When Elsa is held responsible for stampeding a herd of elephants through a village, John Kendall (Geoffrey Keen), Adamson's boss, gives the couple three months to either rehabilitate Elsa to the wild, or send her to a zoo. Joy opposes sending Elsa to a zoo, and spends much time attempting to re-introduce Elsa to the life of a wild lion in a distant reserve. At last, Joy succeeds, and with mixed feelings and a breaking heart, she returns her friend to the wild. The Adamsons then depart for their home in England; a year later, they return to Kenya for a week, hoping to find Elsa. They do, and happily discover she hasn't forgotten them, and is the mother of three cubs.

Cast includes Surya Patel as the Doctor, Geoffrey Best as Watson, a big game hunter, and Bill Godden as Sam. The film also credits lions and lionesses Boy and Girl (siblings), Henrietta, Mara, Ugas, and "The Cubs".

Production notes

George Adamson served as Chief Technical Advisor on the film, and discusses his involvement in his first autobiography, Bwana Game (U.K. title, 1968) known in the U.S. as A Lifetime with Lions.

The making of the film was a life-changing experience for actors Virginia McKenna and her husband Bill Travers, who became animal rights activists, and were instrumental in creating the Born Free Foundation.

Title song

The title song, "Born Free" became a pop hit for pianist Roger Williams, for Matt Monro (who sang the song in the film), and for The Hesitations. Andy Williams also covered the song, and released an album of the same name.


Vincent Canby waxed enthusiastic about the film, writing in the New York Times, "Almost from the opening shot — a vast expanse of corn-colored African plain where lions feed on the carcass of a freshly killed zebra — one knows that Joy Adamson's best-selling book "Born Free" has been entrusted to honest, intelligent filmmakers. Without minimizing the facts of animal life or overly sentimentalizing them, this film casts an enchantment that is just about irresistible."

Awards and nominations

Sequels and subsequent film developments

The book Born Free was followed by two other books, Living Free and Forever Free.

The Lions are Free (1969) follows the lion performers of the film Born Free. Bill Travers journeys to a remote area in Kenya to visit George Adamson, and several of George's lion friends.

A sequel, Living Free (1972), starred Susan Hampshire and Nigel Davenport as Joy and George Adamson. The sequel is based not on the book by the same name, but on the third book of the series, Forever Free.

In 1974, a thirteen-episode American television series was broadcast by NBC, entitled Born Free, starring Diana Muldaur and Gary Collins as Joy and George Adamson. The series was completely fictional.

To Walk With Lions (1999) depicts the last years of George Adamson's life, as seen through the eyes of his assistant, Tony Fitzjohn. George is portrayed by Richard Harris, and Honor Blackman makes a brief appearance as Joy.

See also


External links

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