Virginia McKenna

born on 7/6/1031 in London, England, United Kingdom

Virginia McKenna

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Virginia McKenna
Born June 7 1931
London, England, UK
Years active 1953–1998

Virginia McKenna OBE (born 7 June 1931, London) is an English stage and screen actress, author and wildlife campaigner.

Early career

McKenna trained as an actress at the Central School of Speech and Drama then worked on stage in London's West End theatres before making her motion picture debut in 1952. She continued to appear in both films and on stage and in 1954-1955 was a member of the Old Vic theatre company. She was married for a few months in 1954 to actor Denholm Elliott. Her second husband was actor Bill Travers by whom she had four children, and to whom she was married until his death in 1994.


In 1956, McKenna won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film, A Town Like Alice and two years later was nominated for Best Actress again for her role as the World War II SOE agent Violette Szabo, in 1958's Carve Her Name with Pride.

However, McKenna is best remembered for her 1966 role as Joy Adamson in the true-life film Born Free for which she received a nomination for a Golden Globe. Bill Travers, and her real life husband, co-starred with her, portraying conservationist George Adamson, and the experience led them to become active supporters for wild animal rights and the protection of their natural habitat. McKenna appeared in An Elephant Called Slowly, a travelogue of what it was like years ago in Kenya, Africa. The film features her close friend conservationist George Adamson and also elephants Eleanor (raised by conservationst Daphne Sheldrick) and young Pole Pole. The death of Pole Pole in a zoo was to lead to Virginia and Bill founding the organization Zoo Check. This led to McKenna and her husband becoming involved in the Zoo Check Campaign in 1984 and to their establishing the "Born Free Foundation" in 1991.

On the stage, 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. Over the years she appeared in more motion pictures but also was very active with television roles and on stage where she continues to make occasional appearances.

McKenna has also been responsible for helping create and furnish the Gavin Maxwell museum[1] on Eilean Bàn, the last island home of Maxwell, an author and naturalist, most famous for his book Ring of Bright Water, on which the film of the same name was based. The title Ring of Bright Water was a line taken from a poem by Kathleen Raine.

Other interests

For her services to wildlife and to the arts, in 2004 McKenna was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire. In March 2009 Virginia McKenna published her memoir The Life in My Years.

Her audiobook work includes The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.[2]


Year Film Role Notes
1952 Father's Doing Fine Catherine
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray Ellean Tanqueray
1953 The Cruel Sea Julie Hallam
The Oracle Shelagh
1955 Simba Mary Crawford
The Ship That Died of Shame Helen Randall
1956 A Town Like Alice Jean Paget BAFTA Award for Best British Actress
1957 The Barretts of Wimpole Street Henrietta Barrett
The Smallest Show on Earth Jean Spenser
1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Violette Szabo Nominated BAFTA Award for Best British Actress
Passionate Summer Judy Waring aka Storm Over Jamaica
1959 The Wreck of the Mary Deare Janet Taggart
1961 Two Living, One Dead Helen Berger
1965 A Passage to India (TV)
1966 Born Free Joy Adamson Nominated Golden Globe Award for Best Actress Motion Picture Drama
1969 Ring of Bright Water Mary MacKenzie
An Elephant Called Slowly Ginny
1970 Waterloo Duchess of Richmond
1974 The Gathering Storm Clemmie Churchill (TV)
1982 Blood Link Woman in Ballroom
1977 Holocaust 2000 Eva Caine
The Disappearance Catherine
1992 The Camomile Lawn Older Polly (TV miniseries)
1994 Staggered Flora
1996 September Violet (TV)
1998 Sliding Doors James's Mother

Non-fiction films

  • The Lions are Free is the real life continuation of Born Free. This film tells about what happened to the lions that were in the movie Born Free. Bill Travers, who had starred with McKenna, wrote, produced and directed the film, along with James Hill, the director of Born Free. Travers and Hill went to a remote area in Kenya to visit with the noted conservationist George Adamson. The film has amazing scenes of George and Bill interacting with lions who are living free.
  • Christian:The Lion At World's End is a documentary (with a reinaction sequence at the beginning) about the now-famous lion's journey from a London store to George Adamson's reserve in Kenya. Virginia McKenna and her husband, Bill Travers, had a chance meeting with Christian and his owners Ace Bourke and John Rendall. Through McKenna and Travers' connection with George Adamson, the lion was successfully brought to Africa and taught how to fend for himself. Millions of YouTube viewers have watched Bourke and Rendall reunite with their former pet after his successful transition to the wild.


  • On Playing With Lions (with Bill Travers) Collins, (1966) ISBN 0-00-241607-7 [3]
  • Some of My Friends Have Tails Collins (1971) ISBN 0-00-262752-3
  • Into The Blue The Aquarian Press, (1992) ISBN 1-85538-254-7
  • Journey to Freedom (with help from Will Travers; illustrated by Nick Mountain) Templar (1997) ISBN 1-898784-73-6.


  1. Eilean Bàn Trust and Bright Water Visitor Centre
  2. silksoundbooks: "The Secret Garden" (2007)
  3. Books by or about George and Joy Adamson

External links

  • Virginia McKenna at the Internet Movie Database
  • Born Free Foundation
  • Photos from Virginia Mckenna and the Lions from the movie Born Free.
  • Eilean Bàn home to the Gavin Maxwell museum, author of Ring of Bright Water
  • 2004 Virginia McKenna Brief profile
This page was last modified 12.06.2009 05:43:51

This article uses material from the article Virginia McKenna from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.