After reading about George Adamson´s life, I was very eager to watch his biopic. I sought for a characterization of his life among lions, the way he interacted with them and what reasons led him to have a lifestyle like this. In that sense, “To Walk with Lions” filled all my expectations. In case you don´t know who George Adamson was, he was a British wildlife conservationist who reinserted lions (previously orphaned or captive) into their natural habitat. For this, he moved to the Kora National Reserve in northern Kenya, where he lived the last 19 years of his life, totally dedicated to his lions.
The film begins at the moment when Tony Fitzjohn, who would be Adamson’s assistant for 18 years and still continues his legacy today, comes to Kenya looking for a job and meets the Kora National Reserve. Thus, the viewer gets introduced into Adamson’s life at the same time than Fitzjohn, for whom all this lifestyle is also something new, but quite fascinating. The role is played by John Michie, who performs perfectly. The third character that stands out is George´s brother, Terence Adamson, who also lives in Kora and loves elephants above lions.
But, as happens so often in many good movies, a veteran actor is the one who eats the screen with his presence. And I´m sure George Adamson thanked from heaven that it was none other than Richard Harris who got into the skin of his character. Harris, a true legend of British cinema, will be easily recognized by the average viewer for his roles of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the movie Gladiator, and professor Dumbledore in the first two films of the Harry Potter saga, a character that he couldn´t continue due to his death in 2002 (and speaking of the magician´s movie, what a big difference between Dumbledore played by Harris and his replacement!). Harris shines in the role of Adamson, transmitting his love for lions and nature, eternal strength despite the advanced age, wisdom of experience, and of course, the stubbornness which has characterized so many other outstanding historical figures. For me, Harris was part of a breed of actors nowadays in danger of extinction, and this film proves it once more.
By the hands of the two main actors we get to see the progress of the relationship between Adamson and his disciple, for whom the adaptation process was no easy ride. As you would expect, when surrounded by lions, even the faith of the most intrepid may be shaken and Fitzjohn was no different, having to choose between this extravagant life or the normal habitat that he had been used to. To top it off, knowing that Adamson´s former assistant had been eaten by a lion didn´t make things easier.
The Somali bandits intensify the plot, whose presence in the area is increasing, and whose desire to hunt elephants and other wildlife for personal profit ends up causing a great enmity with the Adamson brothers and Fitzjohn. At this time there is also the debate of whether or not should the Reserve be moved to a safer area, near the Kilimanjaro region; the different opinions on this issue will cause problems in the relationship between George Adamson and Fitzjohn, who were already like father and son by this time.
I find very few flaws in the movie. One of them is that I expected the movie to be more “animal” and less “human”, meaning I wanted to see more interaction between humans and lions. Seeing someone walking outdoors between lions is something that arouses my curiosity, and I would´ve appreciated more scenes like that. This is not to say there are very few scenes with lions, I just would´ve liked to see more of them in the movie, but this is a matter of taste. Overall, the movie is a great honor for this historical character and shows us a completely different way of life from what we´re used to. Definitely, African films tend to be this exciting, arousing our most basic instincts and encouraging us toward harmony with other species and Mother Nature: in short, George Adamson´s dream.