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TCA Press Tour: 'Born Free' roars again in new documentary

August 5, 2010 |  3:56 pm

Bornfree "Born Free," the inspiring book about a real-life British couple living in Africa who raise a lion cub, inspired a heartwarming film, other movies and even a TV series.

But the actual story of George and Joy Adamson and the making of the classic film was much more complicated and is the subject of "The Born Free Story: 50 Years Later," a documentary that will air on PBS' "Nature" series. The broadcast marks the 50th anniversary of the book.

The beloved 1966 film starred Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers as Joy and George Adamson, a real-life couple who raised the orphan lion cub Elsa and raised her to adulthood before releasing her into the jungls of Kenya. The memorably sweeping theme song for the film by John Barry was a huge hit.

McKenna said the scope of the film, while uplifting, was not totally accurate to the true story of the Adamsons.

"Joy was a much more complex character than she was in the script," McKenna said. "The heart of the film was not about the Adamsons and their relationship, it was about their relationship with Elsa. Joy was complicated and passionate as well as enormously dedicated to understanding the individual animal. Many people criticize her — she was hard to get along with. but she poured all the money she made back into conservation."

Sacha Mirzoeff, who directed the documentary, said the "Nature" film will also show the difficulty of living among wild animals. "Living in the bush with animals was much more complicated. The couple struggled in different ways."

Executive producer Fred Kaufman added there is a lot of footage of the Adamsons interacting with the big cats: "I'm stunned that no one got hurt."

— Greg Braxton

Photo: Virginia McKenna. Credit: PBS.