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.
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".
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.
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.