Film Review: The King and I / Anna and the King
For two films that tell the same story, The King and I, and Anna and the King couldn't be more different. The King and I, the 1956 cinematic rendition of the award-winning Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, paints a superficial yet grandly engaging portrait of Siam's King Mongkut and Anna Leonowens, the woman he hired to tutor his heir apparent, Prince Chulalongkorn, along with the children of his many concubines; while the 1999 drama, Anna and the King, presents a cast of fully dimensional characters within the growing context of a civil war.
Directed by Walter Lang, The King and I stars Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in the title roles, and together they create an unforgettable dynamic that won Yul Brynner an Oscar for Best Actor, a role which he reprised from his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance. Sets and costumes are dazzling, the songs are moving and melodic, and although the production has its flaws, what it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in spirit.
Walter Lang's Anna and the King, however, is a drama of epic proportions, with sets, costumes, and cinematography to match. Jody Foster stars as Anna, with Chow Yun Fat as the king. And although it did not receive the same accolades as its musical counterpart, the performances were equally memorable and significantly more subtle and realistic in their delivery.
Nevertheless, neither film was well received in Thailand, where The King and I has been banned since its release for its unflattering portrayal of King Mongkut. Granted, both films are only loosely based upon the true story, but they make for excellent entertainment, especially when viewed in tandem.
About Anna Leonowens
Anna Leonowens, the "Anna" of Anna and the King, was a real-life tutor in the court of Siam. She was born Anna Harriet Edwards, in Ahmadnagar, India on November 26, 1831. Her father, a British military officer, died before she was born, and after his death, her mother, the daughter of an Indian lieutenant, married an Irish military engineer. When the family relocated to Yemen, Anna was tutored by George Percy Owens and his wife, who later took her on a trip to Egypt and Israel.
Upon her return to Yemen, she traveled back to India with her family, and as a young woman, she married Thomas Leonowens, who worked as a clerk and innkeeper. After a brief residence in Perth, Australia, the couple relocated to Singapore and then to Indonesia, where her husband died of a stroke at age 31, leaving Anna with two young children. To support herself, Anna opened a school for the children of British military officers, and was later offered a position in Bangkok as the tutor to the children of King Mongkut of Siam from 1862 to 1868. While Anna was on a leave of absence in England, King Mongkut died of malaria, and his son Prince Chulalongkorn, did not renew Anna's post at the royal court of Siam.
The following year, Anna went to New York, where she worked as a writer, submitting her tales of Siam to the Atlantic Monthly. These magazine articles later became the basis for her two-volume memoirs. By 1880, Anna had resumed her teaching career at the Berkeley School of New York. During that time, she continued her writing and traveled extensively in Europe.
She later moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia where she helped found the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Toward the end of her life, she lived in Montreal, where she died on January 19, 1915 at age 83.
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