Aged 11, Mia finds herself dragged from London to South Africa by her parents determined to — once again — make a go of their farm. Inevitably, she hates it and utterly fails to fit in.
Things begin to change at Christmas, with the arrival of a white lion cub, named Charlie. In spite of her resistance, a relationship develops between Mia and Charlie which sees her come out of her shell and begin to both accept and enjoy her new life.
Over the three years that follow, Mia becomes increasingly close to the lion and spends much of her time with the now adult animal, much to the concern of her parents. This is a wild animal, as Mia’s father keeps pointing out.
Things come to a head and the decision is taken that Charlie can no longer remain at the farm and should be sold. At this point Mia discovers exactly how her father is earning his income and resolves to rescue Charlie.
Mia and the White Lion gets off to quite a slow start. This may be partly due to the way in which the film was made. According to the IMDb co-writer and director, Gilles de Maistre was told that filming a child with a lion would be impossible as the only way for the lion not to harm the child would be that they grow up together.
Undeterred, de Maistre found Daniah De Villiers a young, South African girl already familiar with lions to grow up with the titular white lion cub, and shot the film over two and half years, from May 2015 to December 2017, with the other actors regularly flying in to shoot their scenes.
Things becomes a lot better in the second half with Mia and Charlie’s bid for freedom. Although it’s not hard to guess how things are going to work out, the journey is handled well and the film does manage to draw you in as it follows Mia’s struggle to survive in the wilderness as she tries to reach safety for Charlie.
This is also a very worthy film and one that is determined to make a point about the practice of canned hunting. I am a bit ambivalent about how well this point was made. It is a significant part of the plot, but the film relies too much on telling you about the practice rather than showing you, which deprives it of some of its potential effectiveness.
Where the film does work is in the scenes that focus on the relationship between Mia and Charlie which, once established, comes across as surprisingly believable. This makes for a remarkably effective film about friendship, loyalty and doing what’s right.
This was not the film I was intending to see this weekend, but it turned out to be a lot better than I expected.