Born Free

video via PBS.

Teddy and I finally watched the 1966 film Born Free this past weekend, a movie that has long been on my to-watch list. We have been craving a trip to Africa, a destination I’ve been wanting to go to since I became obsessed with National Geographic as a kid (that along with Borneo so I can spend time with orangutans). This is a wonderful film based on the inspiring book by Joy Adamson who raised an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, with her husband who was the game warden of the Northern Frontier District in Kenya. In 1956, after being forced to kill a lioness out of self defense, George Adamson returned home with three lion cubs. The couple cared for them in their home for six months till it became clear they couldn’t sufficiently care for all of them. The two larger cubs were sent to the Rotterdam Zoo, but Joy and George kept the smallest, Elsa. She became a loved member of the family and lived amongst them. When she grew to be a lioness, several incidents of almost being shot by hunters forced the Adamsons to reevaluate Elsa’s situation. Instead of sending her to a zoo, they spent months training her to hunt and survive on her own. They then successfully reintroduced her into the wild. Doing so made Elsa the first lioness to be reintroduced into the wild, the first to have contact after release, and the first known to have cubs. Elsa died in 1961 of disease resulting from a tick bite. Her three cubs became troublesome for the local villagers so the Adamsons successfully relocated them to the neighboring Tanganyika Territory where they were promised a home in the Serengeti National Park. Joy Adamson wrote Born Free from her own stories and George’s journal to tell the story of Elsa. It was published by a branch of Harper Collins in 1960 and was followed by Living Free and Forever Free, tales of Elsa as she was reintroduced into the wild and of her cubs.

The film was released in 1966 staring husband-and-wife Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. It was filmed in the bush over many months and the actors did all their own scenes with the lions in the film in order to effectively recreate the close relationship George and Joy had with Elsa. Virginia and Bill became good friends with the Adamsons and became very involved with wildlife causes as well. An interesting note about the film is that many of the lions used had also been freed, much like Elsa. Will Travers, son of Virginia and Bill, founded the international wildlife charity Born Free Foundation in 1984. The foundation offers rescue, care, conservation, and education. The cinematography, setting, and wardrobe of the film are brilliantly done. I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already.


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