Born Free

Dir: James Hill. Starring: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Geoffrey Keen. Children's.

Having a realistic, almost The Battle of Algiers docudrama feel helps give Born Free an even bigger heart. The line between real life and film is pushed in so many ways; though as a child seeing this film, I didn’t quite know what a documentary was, that’s what Born Free almost appeared to be. The film is based on the best-selling book by Joy Adamson about her and her husband’s experience raising a lion named Elsa from cub to full-grown. Real life married acting couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers play Joy and her husband George, adding to the realism. But what really separates the film from one of those Disney pseudo nature docs is its nice score by John Barry with that moving theme song.

The Adamsons are a naturalist couple living in the Kenyan bush - he’s a game warden and she’s an artist/writer and a big animal lover. After a couple of lions in the jungle behave like lions, per his job, he goes and casually shoots them. But then he is stuck with their three little cubs, and he and Joy bottle-feed and hand raise them. She really takes a shine to the runt of the trio whom she names Elsa. Under pressure from their boss, Kendal (Geoffrey Keen), eventually the other two are shipped off to a zoo while Elsa stays behind to become one of the family. As she reached her full grown state, Joy makes a bold choice, instead of sending her to a zoo they release her back into the wild, because after all she was born free and deserves to live free. The dilemma though is, like any wild animal raised by humans, she is too tame and doesn’t have the skills to live in the wild. The Adamsons must teach Elsa to be a wild lion, all leading to a gut-wrenching conclusion as the Adamsons will eventually have to say goodbye to their giant pet cat.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Jun 4, 2011 6:42pm

Carve Her Name With Pride

Dir: Lewis Gilbert, 1958. Starring: Virginia McKenna, Paul Scofield, Jack Warner. War Movies.

Honestly, I picked this one up because of the cover. The title struck me, as did the image of a flaxen-haired beauty brandishing a handgun. This is the true life story of British spy Violette Szabo (Virginia McKenna). Since her real life was gussied up for this film, I am simply going to refer to the film, not her life. Widowed in 1942 (her husband was a French soldier), she is propositioned to act as a liaison between British and French troops. Being fluent in French and athletics, she was a swell candidate. We follow her journey from 1940-1944. It’s a nice time-warp to a period when evil was so easily defined. Nazis? Yes, EVIL! Torn between her only daughter and fulfilling her civic duty, she quickly decides to leave the former behind and finish what she felt her husband had been fighting for. We follow her to her unfortunate end in 1944.

I found the film highly enjoyable, in part from the very subtle camera work and non-invasive directing. In a scene when Violette is handed her husband’s death letter by her mother, we simply see a door close. This was a very subdued and nice touch that goes along with the slight tension throughout the film. We don’t see her reaction to her husband’s death, and more importantly we never see McKenna overact. Her military training is fun to watch. Akin to a less nefarious Le Femme Nikita situation. Training montage, nasty drill instructor, and hijinks all included. There is a very striking scene of her wandering the streets of a German occupied French city while on her first mission. A stark contrast to the lightness of her home life in London.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 27, 2009 1:22pm
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