The 1966 movie Born Free won a slew of awards (mainly for its music) and engendered widespread goodwill for telling the inspiring real-life story of George and Joy Adamson, two English naturalists who, while living in Eastern Africa, raised three orphan lion cubs from infancy to adulthood. By the end of Born Free, which was adapted from Joy Adamson’s book of the same name, the leading characters had sent two of the grown lions to safe havens in European zoos but set their favorite, Elsa, free—in the movie’s memorable second half, the Adamsons teach Elsa how to hunt so Elsa can build a new life with a mate. Eventually, the lioness has three cubs of her own.
Born Free had a profound impact on actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who portrayed the Adamsons and became animal-preservation activists themselves. McKenna and Travers starred in the fiction feature An Elephant Called Slowly and the documentary The Lions Are Free, both released in 1969, but the actors did not return to their signature roles once Born Free got a proper sequel, Living Free, in 1972. Instead, Susan Hampshire plays Joy and Nigel Davenport plays George in this gentle story about the Adamsons becoming the de facto guardians of Elsa’s cubs after Elsa dies from an infection. (Adding to this picture’s convoluted lineage, Living Free was adapted from a later book in Joy Adamsons’ series, rather than her immediate literary follow-up to Born Free.)
Realizing that domesticating big cats probably wasn’t a great idea the first time around, the Adamsons decide to capture Elsa’s cubs and deliver them to the Serengeti Animal Preserve, where they can, well, live free. Thus, most of Living Free comprises scenes of the Adamsons trying to keep the cubs out of trouble and safely cage them for transport. This is a bit more interesting than it sounds, thanks to terrific footage of real cats and impressive location photography. Additionally, Hampshire and Davenport do a fair job of showing the cracks in their characters’ stiff-upper-life personas; the anxiety and frustration of attempting something nearly impossible wears on them. The ending is never in much doubt, since this is heartwarming family fare, but persuasive visuals more or less carry the day.
After the release of Living Free, the Adamsons’ adventures shifted to the small screen for a short-lived 1974 TV series (titled Born Free); later, Elsa resurfaced in the 1996 TV movie Born Free: A New Adventure, with fresh characters taking the place of the Adamsons.
Living Free: FUNKY