Title: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I (1956; unrated)
Director: Walter Lang
Major Themes: 1800s, School Teachers, Siam, Thailand
Synopsis: As Anna Leonowens arrives in Siam in the 1860s to become schoolteacher for the Siamese court, she has no clue about the struggles she’ll be facing as she tries to teach modern ideas to the king’s children.
Over the course of about six months not too long ago, I listened to a book called Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. It was a fascinating tale of how a spunky, daring Englishwoman came in contact with the Siamese people, and how she taught some very important lessons not only to the children and king’s wives that she was tutoring, but also to the king and the crown prince as well. I would review the book; but due to the length of time it took to hear the whole thing I’d forgotten the first part by the time I was done!
However, The King and I—a musical based on Landon’s book—seems to be a fairly good re-telling of the original story. It isn’t perfect, but I did enjoy seeing the book with faces added to the characters, so with that and the fact that it does have some historical details in it my reader heart was satisfied.
As Anna Leonowens arrives in Siam (now modern Thailand) with her young son to begin tutoring the royal children, she has no idea what to expect from the king or the new country she’s in. She soon discovers things aren’t all as she planned—although she was under the impression she would be given a house adjoining the palace, the king has determined she should live in the palace. School commences with the children and those of the king’s wives that want to learn, and soon Anna finds herself quite busy. Life isn’t always happy, though, especially when Tuptim, a new wife that joins King Mongkut’s harem confides in Anna of her secret love for another man. Anna feels sorry for the girl, and arranges a meeting for her and her lover once—and later Tuptim escapes. What will happen when she gets caught? Even though the king has advanced his country quite a bit as far as modern learning goes, have his old-fashioned ideas about fairness and the woman’s place and feelings changed? And what happens when a British ambassador visits Siam?
As far as consistency with the book, I didn’t feel like the movie did too badly. There were quite a few things cut out or combined simply for lack of time (which was quite understandable). In the book, Anna did get her own house fairly quickly—while in the movie she lives in the palace and is only promised a house near the end. In the book, she left Siam before the king died; whereas in the movie when he dies she decides to stay. Most of the songs (the part that makes it a “musical”) are complete fabrications—the king never danced with Anna to my recollection, and we never viewed things from his perspective (although “it’s a puzzle!” can be quite a funny song!). Some details—such as the Siamese ladies wearing European dresses and the problems associated with that since they weren’t used to such things—were quite realistic and true to the book. Overall, I guess you win some and you lose some. I did enjoy a few funny bits through the movie, as well—ones that weren’t necessarily in the book.
Even though I enjoyed The King and I, I actually found it quite boring in places. The pace kept up fairly well, but perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t enjoy musicals as much as some people, or that I was already fairly familiar with the story—I don’t know. Either way, while I did enjoy it, I don’t see myself re-watching it anytime soon. It does seem to be a fairly good representation of some of the challenges Anna Leonowens faced while serving in the Siamese court, so for that I recommend the movie. I was also impressed that some of the graphic scenes in the book were not transferred over to the movie—that’s rare. In the end, if you’re looking for a film in a different setting than regency England or somewhere sometime in the US, you might enjoy this one!
WARNING: Throughout the movie, the Siamese men are often depicted with no shirts on, and women often have bare shoulders (Anna, too, in several scenes is wearing a very low-cut dress). At 55:04, Anna helps a young couple get together against the king’s wishes (the young woman was part of the king’s harem). At 55:43 there is a kiss. From 1:12:33 to 1:15:05 Anna is involved in a Buddhist worship service where she had to bow to a statue. There is dancing from 1:23:56 to 1:25:00 and again from 1:53:08 to 1:55:32. A girl is caught escaping and brought in before the king to be whipped from 1:56:06 to 1:58:45, and there is also telling in there of a man drowning. In the last scene, someone dies (but not dramatically; it is a natural death).
Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15, 15 and Above, Adults