Eureka Entertainment brings Born Free to Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray allowing audiences to relive this 1966 British drama based on the true story of Joy and George Adamson. The couple raised an orphaned lion cub to adulthood and released her into the wild in Kenya.
Released in 1966 and winner of two Oscars for best score and original song, Born Free is a perennial Sunday matinee classic associated with long weekends and family gatherings. Shot on location and gloriously saturated there is a richness of environment and scorching heat haze here which gives things a sense of immediacy. Adapted by Lester Cole from Joy Adamson’s book it follows the nurturing of three lion cubs after their parents are shot, following an attack on local villagers.
Using extensive expositional dialogue at key intervals and some dramatic licence, we follow them from first feed through to adulthood and eventual removal from a nature reserve. Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers as Joy and George Adamson equip themselves well but neither looks to be particularly stretched in a piece of traditional entertainment which is neither challenging structurally or inventive from a narrative standpoint.
However amongst the panoramic pans and languid pace of this living landscape Born Free comes to life, bringing a sense of an unspoilt wilderness into your front room. Unfortunately any acting is confined to English stereotypes and mockumentary African dialects, which are either blatantly offensive or unintentionally funny. McKenna and Travers handle the lion cubs and location filming well but their overt mannerisms, wooden style and distinctly upper class demeanour undermine the whole experience.
John Barry’s score which does much to help provide incidental musical interludes and aid dramatic intention is a saving grace and worthy of that Oscar win. Here his use of traditional instruments instils an authenticity, which underpins any action and detracts from the wooden melodrama on screen. This includes an elephant stampede which cuts convincingly between stock footage and our lioness lying in wait, as well as comedic moments featuring friend and confidant Kendall played by Geoffrey Keen.
As to whether this is worth the purchase price on Blu-ray depends very much upon your age. Born Free represents a simpler time in cinema before blockbusters, independent production and affordable holidays to far flung places were available. It is and remains escapism of the most innocent kind when movies still had exotic mysteries to reveal, locations considered tantalising and questionable acting. That being said this remains a microcosm of nostalgia when straightforward family films were capable of winning an Oscar without animation. Pin sharp and technically brilliant this Blu-ray transfer may be, but what it provides in visual majesty is swiftly undone by formulaic storytelling and outdated attitudes best left in the past.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: James Hill
Written by: Lester Cole
Starring: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers
Born Wild is available on Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment on May 8 2017.