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George Adamson (Bill Travers) and his wife Joy (Virginia McKenna) live on a game reserve in Kenya, where George is a gamekeeper. After a shooting incident leaves both a male and female lion dead, George and Joy adopt their three orphaned cubs. When the trials of raising three lion cubs become too much, the couple decide to send them to zoos. George however hides one of the cubs – Joy’s favourite, Elsa – and they raise her to adulthood. But Elsa is a wild animal, and the Adamsons soon come to realise her destiny lies in the wild. First they must teach Elsa how to survive in an unforgiving environment.

Now with cubs of her own, Elsa falls gravely ill. Her cubs are causing trouble in the nearby villages, attacking livestock rather than wild prey. When Elsa dies, Joy Adamson (Susan Hampshire) and her husband George (Nigel Davenport) must again interfere in the lives of the wild cats. With the villagers out to rid their community of the menace posed by the cubs, the Adamsons must rescue them, then face the daunting task of relocating them to a more remote area.

Review by David Edwards:
The winner of two Academy Awards (for its music), Born Free became an icon of the late 1960s. While it might seem quaint now, it spawned several other “conservation movies” at the time, many of them starring husband and wife team Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. Indeed, so passionate was her devotion, McKenna was awarded an OBE in the 2004 Queen’s New Year’s honours list for services to wildlife and the arts.

Based on Joy Adamson’s best selling book of the same name, Born Free proved to be a box office hit. Perhaps it tapped into an emerging environmental awareness, but the story of the Adamsons’ efforts to return Elsa the lioness to the wild was a complete contrast to the “great white hunter” films that had till then been about the only depictions of Africa on Western screens.

Of course, many conservationists now would question the wisdom of what the Adamsons did by raising a lion as essentially a “pet”; but there’s no doubt the emotional connection between the humans (particularly Joy) and Elsa is crucial to the drama.

The film certainly tugs at the heartstrings, and John Barry’s music plays a large part in doing just that. The performances by Travers and McKenna are convincing (McKenna was nominated for a Golden Globe for her part), although the rather stilted acting style might provoke a few unintentional laughs from today’s viewers. The African landscape is of course stunning, even if the digital transfer hasn’t completely cleaned up the original’s sometimes-grainy appearance.

The sequel, Living Free, however, is less successful. There’s an air of laziness about the production as a whole, and about the script in particular; which not only borrows heavily from the original, but extracts whole chunks from it. It’s telling that the producers couldn’t convince McKenna and Travers to reprise their roles. Susan Hampshire and Nigel Davenport stepped in, but neither manages to surpass the efforts of the originals. Geoffrey Keen as Kendall and Peter Lukoye as Nuru however appear in the same parts they played in Born Free.

Two feature films on one DVD mean there’s little room left for special features. The now-standard language choices, scene selection and trailers are here, but little else. It’s also a little disconcerting that the two features play in different aspect ratios. This is no doubt a by-product of transferring the source celluloid to digital, so that each film could be shown in its original form. For viewers without a widescreen TV however, it may result in some elongation of the figures.

Born Free is certainly the main attraction of this DVD set. The music, the wildlife and the magnificent scenery make this an enjoyable African adventure with strong environmental overtones. Living Free however is a decidedly lesser film, and the contrast between the two is striking, making this a decidedly mixed bag.

Published April 1, 2004

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(UK 1966 / 1972)

CAST: Born Free: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Geoffrey Keen and Peter Lukoye Living Free: Nigel Davenport, Susan Hampshire, Geoffrey Keen and Peter Lukoye DIRECTOR:

DIRECTOR: Born Free: James Hill and Tom McGovern; Living Free: James Couffer

SCRIPT: Born Free - Lester Cole; Living Free: Millard Kaufman (both from books by Joy Adamson)

RUNNING TIME: Born Free: 95 minutes; Living Free: 90 minutes

PRESENTATION: Born Free - Widescreen (2.35:1/16:9 Enhanced) Living Free - Widescreen (1.85:1/16:9 Enhanced)


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: March 31, 2004

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