UK Release Date: 8th May 2017
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: James Hill
Writer: Lester Cole
Starring: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Geoffrey Keen, Peter Lukoye
Synopsis: A couple living in Kenya form an attachment to a female lion cub they rear, only to be left with a heart-breaking decision when she becomes too big to live with them any longer.
The tale of Elsa the Lioness is well-known, from being reared by a human couple to her eventual release into the wilderness of Kenya. That story is dramatised in the 1966 film Born Free, which was nominated for several Golden Globes when it was released and also won an Oscar for its title song. More than 50 years after it was originally released, the film is out on a brand new UK Blu-ray release and it holds up very well indeed as a charming, family-friendly tale of the unique bond between a dangerous animal and the human being who proved to be its best friend.
George Adamson (Bill Travers) is working as a ranger in Kenya when he is forced to kill a lion and lioness that have been attacking local humans. He discovers that their defensive nature was because they had three young cubs, who George brings home to raise with the help of his wife Joy (Virginia McKenna). When the cubs grow, two of them are sent to a zoo, but Joy convinces George to keep her favourite, Elsa. Soon, though, Elsa becomes fully-grown and is held responsible for causing an elephant stampede and Joy is faced with a very tough decision as to Elsa’s future.
Born Free is an incredibly sweet movie that benefits hugely from the outstanding beauty of its African setting. Director James Hill takes great pleasure in devouring the serene landscapes with his camera during the narrative downtime and filling it with an enormous animal population during the more dramatic moments, crafting a world that is beautiful and tense in equal measure. There’s a nagging sense that something terrible could happen at any time, whether it’s the frequent near-misses with male lions or the implied danger that Elsa is just one errant paw away from causing serious damage to a human being.
At the centre of it all is the genuinely adorable relationship between Virginia McKenna’s Joy and her lion buddy. At only 95 minutes, the film isn’t an epic by any means, but it takes its time with its storytelling in order to allow the relationship to build in a believable way. By the time Joy is forced to part with two of the cubs, her sadness is palpable and the scenes in which Joy prepares Elsa for a potential release into the wild have a real emotionally poignant feel to them. McKenna’s performance is nicely played and the lapses into melodrama feel authentic rather than forced.
That’s not to say that it’s a perfect movie. It sometimes feels like there’s a lack of incident and the big, awful moment that the film seems to be foreshadowing never actually arrives. Born Free is so straightforward and uncomplicated that it occasionally lapses into being a little bit slow and meandering. The performances, though, are strong enough that there’s always something on the screen that’s worth watching.
There’s no doubt, though, that Hill’s direction is the star, making the absolute most of the tense animal sequences and the jaw-dropping landscapes. Born Free is a film about the immense beauty of the natural world and this new Blu-ray transfer showcases it in deeply impressive fashion. The beauty is backed up with substance as well to conjure a story that is genuinely heart-warming and stands up well even in the modern world of CGI and superheroes.
Lots of bits about the legacy of the true story and a couple of teaser trailers.
Pop or Poop?
Born Free is a sweet family movie of the kind that we rarely see in the modern world. It’s a nicely performed tale of a unique relationship between human and animal, with a real sense of charm and poignancy behind it.
Director James Hill makes the most of the stunning African landscape to create a backdrop to a story that, while not packed with drama, has real heart.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Born Free is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment.