Virginia McKenna makes poignant return to Africa 50 years after filming Born Free

Fifty years after Virginia McKenna made the groundbreaking film Born Free, she has made an emotional return to Africa to make a documentary about the award-winning movie that changed her life.

The 85-year-old actress and her late husband Bill Travers portrayed real-life conservationists Joy and George Adamson in the 1966 drama, which told the story of Elsa the Lioness, an orphan club who they raised to adulthood.


Virginia McKenna was joined by son Will Travers on the trip

The film and its theme tune were worldwide hits and Virginia’s experience inspired her to launch international wildlife charity The Born Free Foundation, which has saved countless animals since its inception in 1984 and has the support of celebrities including Joanna Lumley, Rachel Hunter and Bryan Adams. Her son Will is now its president.

She portrayed Joy Adamson in Born Free fifty years ago

Now Virginia and Will, who was just six years old when he and his parents moved from their comfortable Surrey home to the wilds of Kenya for the nine-month shoot, have returned to Naro Moru,100 miles north of Nairobi, for the first time to make the hour-long Channel 4 documentary, reuniting with people they haven’t seen since the film wrapped.

Virginia said it was "wonderful to be back" in Africa

"After all these years it’s still wonderful to be back," says an emotional Virginia as she visits the place they used to film. "Bill and I were well known for acting together but it was the film Born Free that was to define us.

"We had no animal trainers or stunt doubles. The general consensus from the film industry was that if it stuck to the book the film was unmakeable. There was a real fear from the producers that something could go wrong so there was discreet security on hand at all times… as I replicated how Joy walked, played and even slept alongside lions. It changed our lives forever."

Virginia McKenna's Born Free, Channel 4, Sunday 23rd October at 7pm

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