Taken from the diaries of Anna Leonowens, the only woman who unknowingly was considered the "equal of a king", this period piece set in Siam in 1852 is a splendid depiction of courtly life in one of the many rich eastern nations that were coveted by Queen Victoria. The sets and costumes have been designed painstakingly - elaborate, ornate and detailed. Coupled with the breathtaking Malaysian locales, they help to set the movie in its groove. Not surprisingly, the film was nominated at the 1999 Academy Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.
Siam, under the "Lord of Life" King Mongkut of the Chakri dynasty, comes to life in all its glory.
The story begins with the arrival of the said Mrs. Leonowens at Bangkok as governess to the King's eldest son, from Bombay. With her are her son Louis and two Indian servants.The peculiarity of customs, the autocratic rules of the King, and the superstitious and rigid mindsets of the people at the Palace are only some of the problems this noble, energetic and brave English lady has to contend with. A widow of twenty-three months, she also has to deal with a classroom of young, eager minds and her growing attraction for a man who is stately, aristocratic and just. That man is the King of Siam.
The characters are given new life and dimension in this version of the original "Anna And The King of Siam". Jodie Foster breathes grace and dignity into Anna, a woman who is strong enough to admit her mistakes, stick to what is right in the face of adversity and is strong enough to look her love in the face, feel it, taste it and let it go for a higher cause.
Chow Yun-Fat makes a very real King Mongkut. His stance, his dialogues and the expression in his eyes are a testimony to what a fine actor he makes. Royalty and regalness are given a new meaning through his portrayal of an Eastern king who really loved his country and its people.
The feelings these two protagonists harbour for each other are handled, much to the credit of director Andy Tennant, with tenderness and sensitivity. The change they bring over each other through the exchange of ideas on various issues is noteworthy.
Court intrigues, the role of ministers, trade with the British and other Westerners, family relationships, loyalty and betrayal - all these factors are happily blended in this very colourful and palpable romantic drama, making it rise above stereotypes and fixed categories to a place all its own.This article was first published on 24 Apr 2000.