The story of Anna Leonowens, the strong minded, widowed
British governess who travelled to Siam in the mid-1800's to educate
the king's many children, has been told in film many times before.
The most famous incarnation of this story is Rogers and Hammerstein's
musical The King And I, in which Yul Brynner virtually made the role
of the despotic but benevolent king his own, and its subsequent tv
spin off. The story was previously filmed in 1946's non-musical Anna
And The King Of Siam, and more recently as a bland animated musical.
Director Andy Tennant, who magnificently reinvigorated the Cinderella
story in the recent Ever After, takes the familiar story and breathes
new life into the material in this lavish, epic version.
Jodie Foster essays the role of the outspoken Anna, who
arrives in Thailand from colonial India to educate the heir to the
throne in modern concepts. She eventually charms and influences the
king, anxious to maintain a delicate balance between tradition and the
future, yet ensure his country's continued independence amidst
colonial expansion into Asia.
It is not clear whether Tennant, whose credits also include
the bland romantic comedy Fools Rush In, was trying to create a lush
epic in the David Lean tradition here, but his direction is a little
uneven. The film's second half heads into boy's own adventure mode
with its subplot involving an attempted coup and treachery threatening
the palace. The intrigue is resolved in a spectacular, if contrived,
climactic Bridge On The River Kwai-like confrontation.
While Anna And The King explores broader themes of
colonialism, tradition, and the clash of cultures, its treatment is
nonetheless rather superficial. The film lacks enough dramatic
confrontations and clashes between the headstrong Anna and the king to
sustain tension and thus hold the audience's interest for its generous
The two leads combine well to inject passion and warmth into
their roles, and Tennant beautifully develops an air of sexual tension
between the pair. Foster delivers her usual solid performance, and
maintains an impeccable British accent throughout. But it is Hong
Kong action hero Chow Yun-Fat who delivers the most surprising
performance here, bringing a beautifully regal bearing and
intelligence to his role as King Mongkut. Rather than merely
replicating Brynner's famous mannerisms, Yun-Fat stamps his own
presence on the role, creating a far more complex and interesting
The film has been beautifully shot in Malaysia by veteran
cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and certainly looks gorgeous. The
production design, which recreates the king's sprawling palace, is
also quite sumptuous.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King