Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. United Kingdom/USA, 1966. Open Road Films, Atlas. Screenplay by Lester Cole, based on the book by Joy Adamson.Cinematography by Kenneth Talbot. Produced by Sam Jaffe, Paul B. Radin. Music by John Barry. Film Editing by Don Deacon. Academy Awards 1966. Golden Globe Awards 1966.
The joyous tale of Elsa the lioness that has entertained all ages for decades is still just as fresh and moving now as it was in 1966. The story centres around the true-life story of Joy and George Adamson, an English couple (real-life husband and wife acting team Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers) living in Kenya where he works as game warden for the British government. After shooting two lions, George brings home three orphaned lion cubs that Joy then raises as her own until they become unmanageably large and have to be given to a European zoo. Two are given away, but Joy is unable to part with the littlest of the three, the precocious Elsa, and she keeps her for quite some time until she really gets to be too big to keep in a house as a domestic animal (Um…honey, the cat just ate our guests). When the idea of giving her to a zoo proves to be too unbearable to Joy, she decides to supervise Elsa’s reintegration into the wild, and the results are movie magic. Excellent footage of the very charismatic animal stars contrasts with the moving and totally unsentimental human drama that the Adamsons endure, with brilliant acting (especially McKenna) and stunning cinematography of Kenya to round it out. The gorgeous score by John Barry won an Academy Award, as well as the theme song sung by Matt Munro (Barry would win another Oscar for another Africa movie twenty years later, Out Of Africa).