Richard the Lion Man
For me "Born Free" is a very special movie one which is pretty untouchable as proved by the lack lustre sequel "Living Free" but "To Walk with Lions" is not only a different beast but one which is special for other reasons. This movie focuses on the story of George Adamson in his later years, after he and Joy had split but before her murder and it focuses on his connection with the lions that he had devoted his life to protecting. It is a powerful movie which like "Born Free" gets across the importance of protecting the wildlife but also gets across George's dedication, capturing the man he became through a terrific performance from Richard Harris who embodies the spirit of the conservationist.
After a chance encounter in a bar Terrence Adamson (Ian Bannen), George's (Richard Harris - Unforgiven) brother picks up traveller Tony Fitzjohn (John Michie) and takes him back to the Kora reserve where George offers him work helping look after the lions. Despite no training or any real desire to help Tony grows fond of both George and the work he is doing understanding the passion that the old man has for the lions he has helped over the years. And as Tony connects with the lion man he helps as George not only has to deal with the increasing number of poachers but trouble with local tribes and also the authorities which want to shut Kora down.
For me "Born Free" was all about the wonderful story of Joy and George Adamson and of course Elsa, highlighting the importance of their work and this was continued to some extent in "Living Free". But whilst there is still that aspect in "To Walk with Lions" as we are made aware of George's continual battle to protect the lions which he cares for and teaches to hunt the focus is more on George himself and his complete devotion to the lions, his family. And it is a powerful story which retells George's last few years, the various battles and how Tony not only came to work for him, continuing the fight but also became like a son to him.
But as such the heart and soul of "To Walk with Lions" is the actual character of George himself and it is thanks to a brilliant performance from Richard Harris that the heart and soul comes across. Not only does he visually recreate the look of George and looks so natural when interacting with the lions but he also gets the heart of the man across. And that means he gets across that George had become like the king of the lions himself, prepared to fight to protect his territory, fearless in doing so but also very protective.
Richard Harris also works well with John Michie who stars as Tony Fitzjohn, who some will recognize as Karl in "Coronation Street". Michie who basically leads us through the movie, from his first meeting with George to the sad events which transpire later on, gets across the aspect of seeing George almost like a father figure. This really comes to the fore later on when it seems hopeless to try and keep Kora going and they argue over what they should do. In fact alongside Michie there are good performances from Ian Bannen as Terrence Adamson and Hugh Quarshie as safari guide Maxwell, the only performance which felt wrong to me was from Honor Blackman who appears briefly as Joy and plays her too flirtatiously for my liking.
Of course we also have the wonderful cinematography and whilst it doesn't have that sweeping style the close up work of both George and Tony interacting with lions is brilliant. In fact there is nothing to criticize when it comes to the cinematography and by not being sweeping makes it feel intentionally different to "Born Free" whilst still capturing the beauty of the land and the wild animals.
What this all boils down to is that "To Walk with Lions" is a brilliant movie which for me is part of the Born Free series and does a nice job of focussing on the life of George Adamson in his later years, getting across the heart and soul of the man as well as the battles he faced. It is very much thanks to a brilliant performance from Richard Harris which makes it work because he embodies the spirit of the man, bringing to life the devotion George had to the lions he protected.