Our rating: 4 out of 5
reviewed by: Charity Bishop
It's not often that Hollywood abandons cheap love stories for a love story so passionate, so beautiful... that the two lovers never even touch one another! Our story opens in the bustling streets of Bangkok in the mid eighteen hundreds. An English ship pulls into port bearing items for trade... silks, spices... and a British schoolteacher. Anna Leonowens waits on board with her two Hindu servants and son Louis, a widow called to Siam to educate King Mongkut's eldest son and heir to the throne.
Expecting an escort, Anna is sorely disappointed when no one arrives. With the ship threatening to pull out of port, she must take son in hand and go out upon her own into the strange culture which surrounds her. After her exhausting journey, her temper is not improved by being shown into the offices of the Kralahome, Prime Minister of Siam, instead of King Mongkut, with whom she has a bone to pick. Her straightforward manner insults the Prime Minister, and he informs her shortly that she shan't see the king until he calls for her, nor will she have the house promised her in their agreement, but that she shall remain in the palace indefinitely. Three weeks later, tired of being ignored, Anna bursts in on the king, but fortunately he seems to have a strange respect for her, and introduces her personally to his fifty-eight children, as it seems she is not only to teach his heir, but also the rest of his family, including a few of his wives.
While Anna is testing the waters in her dealings with King Mongkut and attempting to curb an ongoing rivalry between Louis and the Prince, a revolution is in the making. A family of nobles favored by the king are found dead. Rumors of Burma invaders reach royal ears, and the king's general fears that the English, who are prominent in Burma, are behind it. Determined to prove him wrong, Anna agrees to undertake a gala to impress the English colonists and the visiting French, little knowing that Mongkut fears war from none other than her own people. Little do either know the revolution which they will be swept into, to endanger the children. A devious treachery is afoot in Siam...
This Anna and the King is far superior to the musical The King & I in that it has a more believable and romantic storyline and that His Majesty is more of a compassionate, brilliant leader than the barbaric blunderbuss that Yul Brenner made him out to be. King Mongkut is willing to listen and accept, while proving himself to be a gentle man bound only by the pride and propriety of his people. In time, he realizes that yes, in a world of white elephants, concubines, and pride, it is possible to love only one woman. And although he remains a devout Buddhist throughout the film, this is contrasted beautifully with Anna's wholehearted devotion to Christianity. Several reverent, passionate scenes find her reading her Bible and praying, as well as bringing up direct references to Jesus and God. There are no ill-uses of God's name! Rated PG13 for violence, it is handled in good taste and much of it in the shadows or off screen. Several bodies are found hanging from a tree and strewn on the ground, an attack is made on loyalists to King Mongkut, and is only seen through sheer draperies, which are splattered with blood. A league of soldiers are poisoned, and a man is shot through the head non-graphically and in the darkness.
A woman is beat with a cane, and an execution is implied, mixed with delicate and touching scenes of torment on both Anna and the King's part, as each prays and cries for the lost souls; all we are afforded is a delicate spatter of blood falling upon the white petals clutched in trembling hands. King Mongkut has a house full of wives and concubines, but is never shown in intimacy with any of them. He enters the room of his latest wife, Tuptim, who is afraid of him, but merely touches her upon the chin and smiles reassuringly. With a stirring soundtrack, magnificent special effects, and gorgeous costuming and sets, Anna and the King is a welcome change from the normal sex-obsessed film industry, the first in a line of films to portray Christian theology. I'd be willing to recommend this film to anyone. Another masterful production by the director of Ever After... not to be missed!