Anna and the King (2000)




Director:     Andy Tennant.

Starring:     Jodie Foster (Anna), Chow Yun-Fat (King Mongkut), Bai Ling (Tuptim), Tom Felton (Louis), Syed Alwi (The Kralahome), Randall Duk Kim (General Alak), Lim Kay Siu (Prince Chowfa), Melissa Campbell (Princess Fa-Ying), Keith Chin (Prince Chulalongkorn), Mano Maniam (Moonshee), Shanthini Venugopal (Beebe), Deanna Yusoff (Lady Thiang).

A more straight-forward drama about Anna, the governess, and the King of Siam.




Spoiler Warning:

Bangkok, 1862.  The King says:  "She was the first English woman I had ever met, and it seemed to me she knew more about the world than anyone, but it was a world Siam was afraid would consume them. . . .  Still, she came, unaware of the suspicion that preceded her."

Anna Leonowens arrives with her boy Louis on a ship.  Louis asks mother:  "Why does this king need you if nobody here speaks English?"  Anna answers:  "Because the ways of England are the ways of the world."  No one is there to greet them, so they take a rickshaw ride to the palace. 

Mother and son wonder what this King Mongkut is like.  The rickshaw pulls into the palatial grounds.  Anna and Louis first meet the prime minister.  Anna is called "Sir" because women are not allowed to stand before the emperor.   She is a bit put off when she learns that she will be living in the palace.  She had wanted to live in a place outside the palace and its grounds. 

Anna and Louis are shown to their quarters.  Anna is still fuming about her quarters.  She says a king that does not keep his agreements is uncivilized, unenlightened and, frankly, ungrateful.  "There are principles at stake here.  Having a proper British household with some privacy is one of them."

Some Thai people are hanging by ropes from trees is some areas.  Troops come behind a man on an elephant, shouting:  "People of Bang Pli, His Majesty's brother, Prince Chowfa, has heard your cries for justice."  Chowfa sees the hanging men and orders that they be cut down.  He asks a local woman what happened here?  She says that Burmese soldiers told them that if they cut down the hanged men, they would return.

The prime minister reminds Anna and Louis that when they appear before the king, they must touch their foreheads to the floor.  Anna says the British have their own customs and she will greet the king with great respect.  They enter the throne room, but are told that they will have to return tomorrow instead of today.  Anna does not accept that.  She goes right up to the king until she is stopped by his guards with drawn swords.  The king asks who is this person?  Anna says they have been waiting three weeks to speak to the king.  She speaks rapidly about her situation, but the king demands that she be silent.  He asks of the prime minister in his native language:  "Has she no understanding of protocol?"  The prime minister says she was advised on the protocol.  In English the king asks if she's the teacher?  Yes, she is. 

The king turns and starts walking off.  The prime minister tells Anna that since the king has not dismissed her, she must follow after him.  She and Louis do just that.  The king complains about her irritating superior attitude and that is "most unbeautiful".  Nevertheless, she shall teach all of his children. He opens a door and there is a park like area where are the king's 23 wives and 58 children with ten more children on the way.  As they enter, the wives and children all bow down all the way to the floor.  He introduces the heir apparent, Prince Chulalongkorn, to Anna and Louis.  The prince sees this as some kind of punishment and refers to Anna as an imperialist schoolteacher. 

The king now says that he wants all of his children to learn the English language, science and literature.   Anna says a couple of sentences to the wives and children.  The king tells Anna that she must also acknowledge the head wife, the Lady Thiang.  He wants Anna to make the head wife a fine scholar.  The king says reform in Siam is vital for the country's survival.   Anna now asks for a home outside the palace.  The king only says:  "It is my pleasure that you live in the palace."  He starts to leave and Anna tells him:  "But it is not mine, Your Majesty."  Now the king gets mad and the others duck for cover.  He tells her the education will begin tomorrow. 

A pretty young woman, Tuptim, is being carried to the palace.  A man runs along her side saying that he loves her.  The guards block the way of the man at a certain point. 

School begins.  The heir apparent gives Anna a map of Siam.  Then he tells her about his country.  The population is 6 million, the number of provinces is 49,  running from Burma in the west to Cambodia in the east.  It is presided over by King Maha Mongkut. Soon Louie starts playing class clown and the two boys get into a fight. One of the little princesses rushes to tell her father about the fight.

Father is being introduced to Tuptim, the daughter of a prosperous tea merchant. 

The king comes with the little princess to see what's happened.  He asks the Lady Thiang about it and she tells him what happened.  He sees the two boys at the two black board. Louis writes sentences that say he will not fight in school, but the heir apparent doesn't write anything on the blackboard.  When Louie finishes, he is allowed to go home.  But the prince will stay here with her until he finishes his sentences.  After dark the Lady Thiang brings out only one supper and this is for the teacher.  The Prince starts writing his sentences on the blackboard.   When he finishes they both eat their dinners. 

In the dark, Anna hears a woman lamenting.  Anna finds the woman chained.  The next day Anna protests against the 6 weeks of the woman being tied down with chains all because she tried to buy her own freedom.  The prime minister says the mistress of the slave, Jao Jom Manda Ung, is the daughter of a very influential family.  The heir to the throne must never be involved an issue of the bond-servant.  "It will resolve itself in time."  Anna goes away disgusted. 

The Burmese attacked a Siamese village and hanged even women and children.  Why do the Burmese do this?  The king says they must remember that the British are behind the scenes pulling the strings of their Burmese puppets. And advisor Alak says, if two countries fight each other, the British can intervene in the conflict and come to the rescue of one country or the other.  This gives the British a great deal of influence in the country they are helping.  He says the British intend to make Burma a "British Protectorate". 

The prince asks his teacher why some people are masters and some are slaves?   She lends him a book named Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  At this very period in the United States of America they are fighting a civil war over the slavery question. After the prince reads the book, she will discuss it with the prince. 

The wives prepare Tuptim for a meeting with the king in her chambers.  They say that the king is a kind and generous lover.  He comes in and the other wives leave. 

Anna is in trouble again with the king.  She took the slave woman away and gave the mistress her wedding ring as payment, but now the mistress is saying that Anna broke into her home and freed the slave and just left this ring behind as payment.  She and the mistress appear before the king.  Anna tells her side and the king has the prime minister tell the mistress what the law is on freeing a slave.  A slave can buy his or her freedom from the master or mistress owning the slave.  The king rules in favor of the teacher.  The wealthy tea merchant daughter is really angry.  When she leaves, she throws Anna's wedding ring into a lake. 

It's not over yet.  The king asks Anna why did she have to interfere?  She answers:  "My conscience demanded it."  The king tells Anna that her husband must have been very understanding.  She tells the king that her husband was never threatened by her opinions and beliefs.  (Of course, there wasn't a clash between two different cultures with the wife and husband.  They were both British.)  The prime minister says that this woman has created too many insults because she thinks she's a good as a man.  The king says, no, it's actually worse than that.  She thinks she's as good as a king.

Lady Thiang introduces Tuptim to Anna. Tuptim says, to please His Majesty, she wants to learn how to write the English language.  Anna approves of that, but adds that she hopes that it will also please Tuptim as well.

The king sees that his children really like Anna and the heir apparent is getting along with Louie.  So now he gives Anna a house to live in outside the palace.  And this way it will be harder for Anna to interfere in the king's business.

Tuptim gives Anna a note to send for her.  Tuptim says it's a letter to her parents saying how much she likes life in the palace. 

The whole family and staff go on an outing with the king.  The king tells Anna that he does not want her teaching the heir apparent about the book Uncle Tom's Cabin.  One cannot plow all the fields in Siam over one night. 

A death squad attacks the home of a wealthy merchant who turned down a price offered by a British man.  And because the death squads strike so randomly, the king's government has a hard time providing protection from the squads.   Merchants who reject British traders are murdered in their homes.  England hides behind Burmese assassins.  Also supporters of the King of Siam are murdered wholesale.

The king now decides to give himself a lavish anniversary dinner and invite English nobles and diplomats. He believes by strengthening his ties to the British this will stop the French and their colonials in French Indochina from threatening Siam.  He adds that Anna will be the grand hostess and help make the Englishmen feel at home.  This party will be within 3 weeks of yesterday. 

Anna helps prepare western dresses for the wives and other Siamese women.  She also teaches the waiters how to serve the English their food and drinks. 

The party is a lavish affair.  And for one night no one at the party must bow down to the king.  Anna looks very lovely in her evening gown.  The king's children form a chorus and sing the old song about a bicycle built for two.  One of the English male guests is a bit tipsy and insists on stressing the superiority of England over Siam.  This time Anna gets up to intervene on behalf of the king and not against him.  She puts the rude man in his place reminding him that England is in a better situation economically mostly because of their habit of negotiating at the point of a gun. 

Now Lord Bradley gives a toast to His Majesty, the King of Siam, and this goes off extremely well.  Now the king asks Anna to dance with him in the western style to get everyone out on the floor whirling and twirling. 

Tuptim's  boyfriend has a little boy give Anna a note for Tuptim. 

The prime minister and two key political players decide to search for the Burmese assassins in the north without conferring with the king. 

Anna gives the note to Tuptim. 

The king tells Anna that he fears military action must take place against Burma.  Anna objects that Burma is British.  She is not happy about this news and starts to leave.  He tells her he has a gift of appreciation for her work on the anniversary ball.  It a beautiful and large ring.  Anna tells him that she can't accept such a generous gift and leaves it on the table as she goes out. 

Tuptim's boyfriend has joined the Buddhist priests.  Tuptim sees him walking along with the other priests.  He stops and smiles at her, but must keep up with the priests.  Her eyes start to water. 

The king's favorite daughter has contracted cholera and is very sick.  The prime minister escorts Anna into the room to see the little girl, because the daughter is very fond of her teacher.  Anna's eyes start to water as she watches the little girl.  She dies in her father's arms.  When her father leaves, Anna cries over the loss of the precious girl. 

The king grieves over his loss.  He becomes surly and isolates himself even from his family.  Anna tells him that his children really miss him and that he can't close himself off from the outside world forever.  She says she knows because when her husband died, that's what she tried to do.  And yet she had Louie and he was her salvation.  The king comments but Anna still refuses to live.  She is a mother, a teacher, a widow but never just a woman.   She buries herself in her work and other activities to deal with the passing of her husband, which she has still not accepted.  He tells her this because Anna lies even to herself.   Therefore, Anna is not qualified to lecture the king on this subject.  She's just not qualified.  Now he goes back inside. 

Anna is much more subdued now as she considers what the king has told her. 

The king has received a letter from Abraham Lincoln.  He wrote Lincoln offering him his elephants to help him fight the civil war in America.  Lincoln has written a thank you letter, but declines to take the elephants as they live in a much different clime than Siam.  He signed the letter, your friend, Abraham Lincoln. 

And now the king tells Anna that she can teach any subject she wants to teach, as long as she warns him in advance, so he can prepare himself for the consequences.  Later, she thanks the king for bringing her to Siam for she is happy here.  She says she wandered around to many different places trying to find somewhere she could feel she belongs.  And now she is here in Siam. 

Two soldier scouts ride up to the general with his army and says the Burmese camp is near.  The general catches the Burmese by surprise. They easily take the camp and the general decides to use the same camp site for an overnight stay.  The general, however, turns out to be a traitor.  He poisons the food of the soldiers and they all die.  He even poisoned the beverage of his own brother, Chowfa, but brother refuses to drink and then runs away from the general.  He must jump out of a high opening in an abandoned house to get away, but in doing so breaks his right lower leg.  Now the general comes after him.  Brother tries to get away but runs right into a group of the Burmese assassins.  The general tells his brother that this is the only way to rid Siam of their western parasites.  He now shoots brother in the head. 

The prime minister tells the king what happened up in the north.  Prince Chowfa and Alak were cremated.  The king says to send his army north to fight the Burmese. 

Anna asks Lord Bradley if the British are behind these Burmese attacks on Siam?  Lord Bradley declares that the way the British run their empire is really none of Anna's concern.  He suggests that Anna remember that she herself is British.

A young woman named Phim comes to tell Anna that Tuptim is in danger.  Someone found Tuptim in the Buddhist monastery and Tuptim says she must speak to Anna.  Phim takes her to where Tuptim is hiding.  Anna sees her and is a bit shocked because of Tuptim's bald head.  The teacher says she will tell the king whatever Tuptim wants to tell him.  But now, soldiers descend upon them.  Phim and Tuptim try to run away, but they are caught. 

Tuptim has to appear before the court.  During the proceedings, they bring in Tuptim's boyfriend in an iron device that keeps him helpless. And the judge says that they found the notes that went back and forth between Tuptim and Balat.  She pleads to the court that she was motivated by love for Balat, the only man she has ever loved.  She says Balat tried to get away from her by joining with the Buddhists.  Balat did nothing to help her.  She disguised herself.  He never even knew she was there by his side in the monastery.  She talks back to the judge and he orders that she be caned right in the courtroom.  Anna tries to stop the caning, but the guards grab her. 

She goes to complain to the king, but he tells her it is none of her business and he is fed up with all her interferences.  He says in this case Anna has made it impossible for him to intervene without losing face.  He cannot undermine the Siamese nobility.  His powers are not limitless.  Anna, however, is not giving up.  So, the king finally has to tell her to go home:  "You help enough for one day."

At home Anna reads her Bible to comfort herself.  Meanwhile, the two lovers are to be executed.  Their heads will be cut off.  Anna cries over what is happening.  The king too is very upset about the sentence. 

Anna is going to leave Siam. 

British businessman Kincaid goes to see the prime minister.  He exposes Alak's plot to bring down the present government in Siam.  Alak will blame the coup on Burma, then launch a full-scale attack using the king's troops already protecting the border.  And Alak will reach the city in a week from now. 

The prime minister tells the king of the plot.  He says that the king's army cannot reach the palace before Alak does.  Therefore, he wants to evacuate the royal family.  The king tells the prime minister to tell the people that they have caught a rare white elephant and start the celebrations. 

At the docks, amidst the party revelers, Louie tells his mother that he doesn't want to leave Siam.  He wants to stay with all his friends.  Mother says they cannot stay.  She goes to buy her ship tickets.  The prime minister tells Anna that there is no white elephant.  This way the king can evacuate the royal family while pretending they are all going to see the white elephant.  A traitor is descending on the palace.  The prime minister wants Anna to talk to the king to encourage him to go with the wives and the children to hide until the trouble blows over.

The king come out of a palace building and almost everyone falls to the ground.  And there the king sees Anna standing there standing stock still.  He leads his royal family passed Anna.  She offers to go with king, along with Louie, to make sure his retreat will look like just an outing to see the white elephant. 

The royal family and Anna's family proceed on a river to an isolated village.  The king thanks her for her courage.  He asks her why did she come back?  Anna tells him:  "Because I could not imagine a Siam without you."

A messenger rides to Alak to tell him that the Royal Steamer has been abandoned near Lopburi, and the king travels east on foot.   Alak says they are heading to the monastery in Nong Khai.  So that's where Alak is going. 

The king looks through a telescope and see Alak's army coming toward him.  He tells Anna that she and the children must go on without him.  He will meet her at Nong Khai.  Anna asks him what is he going to do and he says he is going to blow up the bridge over the river when Alak's army is on the bridge.  Anna asks the king to promise that she will see him again.  He doesn't promise her, but he says it is possible that a handful of men can stop an entire army. 

The king's men rig the bridge with lots of explosives.  Alak's army starts coming down the hill to the bridge.  The king watches them coming down.  With two men he just waits for their arrival.  When Alak reaches the bridge he stops.  The king tells him to turn around and leave or they will all be killed.  Someone whispers to Alak that this is a trap, so the king reassures Alak by riding farther out onto the bridge.

Louie watches through the telescope and tells his mother that the king is on the bridge now.  Anna has an idea.  She picks up Louie's bugle. 

Alak says that the king is bluffing and he rides out to the middle of the bridge to confront the king.  As the confrontation is about to start Anna has the fire works ignited making it look like the British are with the king.  The Burmese troops with Alak become fearful, especially when they hear the blowing of the British military bugle. 

Now the king's two guards kill Alak's two men with their pistols.  Alak's horse gets frightened and throws the general off and Alak lands on the bridge.  The horse now abandons Alak.  The king's guards now want to kill Alak.  The king says no:  "I want him to live with his humiliation."  The king and his guards leave.  Alak sees a rifle on the bridge.  He picks it up and starts to aim the rife at the king.  Now the detonation man pulls the strings attached to the rifles, setting the rifles off and exploding the entire bridge. 

Now the king and his guards show up at the encampment.  The king asks why didn't teacher just follow orders and go to the monastery?  Anna says:  "Because I lost one man to the jungle, Your Majesty.  I was not about to let that happen again."

The children put on a little play for the adults.  Anna tells the children that their father is extremely proud of them.  She then adds that she will always be proud of the children. 

Anna tells the king that she is going home to England.  The king asks to dance one more time with Anna.  He also says that now he understands why some men can be satisfied with one woman.  They dance very slowly. 

The heir apparent says:  "I was only a boy, but the image of my father holding the woman he loved for the last time has remained with me throughout the years. It is always surprising how small a part of life is taken up by meaningful moments.  Most of them, they are over before they start, although they cast a light on the future and make the person who originated them unforgettable.  Anna had shined such a light on Siam." 

"Thanks to the vision of his father, King Mongkut, and the teaching of Anna Leonowens, King Chulalongkorn not only maintained Siam's independence, but also abolished slavery, instituted religious freedom and reformed the judicial system."


This is a famous and well-known story.  They even made a famous musical about the story:  The King and I.  Anna was a true historical figure and she wrote two books on her adventures in Siam.  She, however, did have a habit of making herself more important that she really was.  The movie being considered here is much more complicated the other movie versions and involves a lot of battles between Siam and Burma, the latter under the control of the British.  So this version is better from an historical perspective for history buffs, even if The King and I was much more enjoyable as just a regular movie.  As told below, Siam was the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.  That's quite remarkable and the kings of Siam must have been pretty special to keep the westerners hands tied to a certain extent to avoid becoming just another colony.  Jodie Foster (as Anna) and Chow Yun-Fat (as King Mongkut) were both very good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



Historical Background:

The King of Siam and the Governess Anna Leonowens


1768-1932  --  the Bangkok period of Thai History

1767  --  the Burmese invaded the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, burned its capital, and sacked the territory.

1769  --  General Taksin reunited the Thai kingdom, declared himself king and ruled from his new capital of Thonburi. 

1782  --  Taksin was executed.  Allegedly, he had gone mad, was deposed, and taken prisoner.

1782  --  General Chakri became the new king, Rama I, the first king of the Chakri dynasty. 

1782  -- the new capital was Bangkok.  It was located across the Chao Phraya River from Thonburi, the old capital. 

1790s  --  Burma was defeated and driven out of Siam.  

1804 -- Prince Maha Mongkut born in the kingdom of Siam (now Thailand).

1809 -- His father becomes King Rama II. The Crown Prince had 72 brothers and sisters, borne by 38 different mothers.

1816 -- at the age of 12, he is put in charge of the Siamese army.

1824 -- his father dies. A council of princes and court officials chose his half-brother Jetta to be Siam's new king. Fearing he would be killed, Mongkut leaves his wife and children to begin a 27 year stint as a Buddhist monk.

1826  --  the British made inroads into neighboring Burma. 

1826  --  Siam signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Britain. 

1833  --  the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam.  

1834 -- Anna, the future governess to the king's children, born in Wales. Her father is a military man who serves and dies in India.

1851 -- Jetta (King Rama III) dies. Mongkut elected to become King Rama IV. He puts his brother Chutamani in charge of national defense. Jetta himself was very pro-Western and even introduced western innovations. He spoke at least six languages, including English (about which he joked some Englishmen "have not understanding of their own language when I speak)."

He had 82 children by 39 wives. He had Christian missionaries teach the women, but they grew tired of their preaching and so the king hired English woman Anna Leonowens to teach the king's wives and children.

1851-1868  --  reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV).  Under his and his son's reigns, Siam reached a rapprochement with Western powers. The Thais believed that the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the Thai Government, made Siam the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.  Wikipedia says:  "He is considered one of the greatest kings of Siam. His reign was characterized by the modernization of Siam, immense government and social reforms, and territorial cessions to the British Empire and French Indochina. As Siam was threatened by Western expansionism, Chulalongkorn, through his policies and acts, managed to save Siam from being colonized."     

1851 -- Anna marries British officer, Major Thomas Leonowens. He dies young. With two children to support, Anna becomes a teacher.

1862 -- Anna arrives in Bangkok.
Leonowens served at court until 1867.

Anna writes two books (The English Governess at the Siamese Court and The Romance of the Harem) about her adventures (some of doubtful accuracy).

1868-1910  --  reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).

1944 -- Margaret Landon writes Anna and the King of Siam.

The various stories of the King and I have been banned in Thailand due to its "disrespect" for the monarchy.


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