Some people are an inspiration, and Virginia McKenna, OBE, is one of them. An award-winning actress, she has dedicated her life to animal rights after co-starring with her late husband, Bill Travers, in the classic film, BORN FREE. The experience changed them both, and their attachment to the animals that they met eventually became the Born Free Foundation, which their son, Will Travers, OBE, serves as president, and in which McKenna takes an active part.
When I spoke to them on April 20, 2016, one of the things I wanted to ask was if McKenna could identify the moment during filing BORN FREE that she knew she would be working for animal welfare for the rest of her life. We went on to talk about why McKenna and Bill Travers wanted to leave England to rough it in Africa in order to make BORN FREE, why she didn’t let a broken ankle change her mind, and how making the film RING OF BRIGHT WATER involved the two in another sort of preservation. We finished up with Will talking about the ongoing efforts to stop the ivory trade and what each of us can do to help.
McKenna travelled to Kenya with her late husband, Bill Travers, to film Joy Adamson’s book of the same name about returning Elsa the lioness to the wild, and the experience of working with the lions changed their lives. Their work included documentaries and activism, culminating in the Born Free Foundation.
McKenna began her stage career in 1949, and in 1979 she won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a British musical for her performance opposite Yul Brynner in The King and I. Her film work includes winning the BAFTA Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film, A Town Like Alice, AN ELEPHANT CALLED SLOWLY, and the documentary, THE LIONS ARE FREE, about the lions in the film BORN FREE, as well as the film adaptation of Gavin Maxwell’s book RING OF BRIGHT WATER, also with Travers. She is the recipient of this year’s San Francisco Green Film Festival Inspiring Lives Award.