Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner, Rita Moreno, Martin Benson, Terry Saunders|
This Rogers and Hammerstein musical is based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, a widowed British schoolteacher who served as tutor to the children of the King of Siam (Thailand) in the 1860s.
King Mongkut (Oscar-winning performance by Yul Brynner) has lost part of his kingdom to the French, and has reason to believe that the British plan to gobble up what’s left. He consults with Anna (Deborah Kerr) on the best way to get the British to back off from their colonialist plans, and she advises that he and his court become familiar with Western culture and customs so the British officials will have no excuse to consider him a “barbarian.” Familiar songs include “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello Young Lovers” and “Getting to Know You.”
While the film is not offensive in the ways that most modern films are, it deals with many mature themes and may either frighten or lose the interest of some young viewers. The clash between two cultures—and the attitude of ethnic superiority on both sides—is central to the story. There are references to slavery (including a Siamese stage version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) and to royal polygamy (including the punishment of a girl who tries to escape from the harem). When the King makes fun of Moses for writing that the world was created in six days, Anna replies that it’s a statement of faith, not a scientific statement (in other words, it’s not literally true). In the midst of all their disagreements, the King and Anna transcend their backgrounds and develop a healthy respect and fondness for each other.
There are several other film versions of this story, including “Anna and the King of Siam” (1946), “The King and I” (animated, 1999), and “Anna and the King” (1999).