The King and I

The King and I PosterThe year is 1862, and staunch Anna, a British widow, has just arrived on the banks of Siam to serve as schoolteacher for the king’s children. After being informed that the king has broken his promise of providing her a house separate from the palace, Anna storms into the court and demands audience with the king. Impressed with Anna’s “scientific” bravery, the king convinces her to stay by introducing her to his family. Anna cannot resist the innocent charm of the king’s children – even if there are a hundred and three of them.

The King and I, a sweeping Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical from the 50s, follows the adventure and romance as Anna finds her place in the king’s court. Masterful music, gorgeous costume, and skilled acting tell the story of the king’s struggle to choose the best for his kingdom and Anna’s search to understand the heart of her employer. As she becomes more involved in palace life, Anna finds herself falling in love with the Siamese people – and their king.

The Good

Even though the film exposes some of the errors in the historical Siamese culture, the narrative takes a very fair and balanced approach. Though Anna disapproves of some of the Siamese traditions, she does not attempt to convert her students into respectable Englishmen. When word of British takeover reaches the ears of the king, Anna thoroughly disapproves and helps the court make a good impression on the British ambassadors.

Similarly, the king himself is not portrayed as a heartless despot, but rather a well-meaning man with unanswered questions. His first love is to his country and his people and he deeply desires to be a good king. He is strong and does his best, even when his values conflict with each other.

The king’s head wife is a supportive and kind-hearted woman. She admits her husband’s faults yet loves him fully, encouraging Anna to do the same. She believes her husband will come through and strives to give him the help he needs.

The Bad

Discerning viewers might be concerned by several aspects of the Siamese culture, most notably Buddhism and polygamy. These elements are portrayed very vividly in the film and are not necessarily condemned as unbiblical. There is a fair amount of immodesty involved as well, which should be approached with caution.

Romance and women’s rights are a strong subtheme throughout the movie, with British and Siamese beliefs being contrasted. Anna and the king become affectionate for each other, which culminates in a swelling dance. One of the king’s many wives is in love with another man; their romance involves secret meetings and ultimately ends with suicide. It is left unclear whether or not the lovers were right to revolt against the king’s system in pursuit of happiness.

Christianity is mentioned a few times during the film as part of British culture, but it is neither supported nor disproved. When trying to explain the first chapter of Genesis to the king, Anna says that Moses’ record was “His interpretation of the miracle of Creation.” While praying to Buddha, the king admits that Anna is a Christian and therefore not worthy of Buddha’s favor, to which Anna objects. However, Anna herself is not portrayed has having any faith or dependence on God.

In Summary

The King and I is a rich drama with a lot of depth. The color of the Siamese culture fascinated me, and the charming characters made me both laugh and cry. However, because of the romance and immodesty, and certain aspects of the Siamese culture, I can recommend this movie for discerning teen and adult viewers only.

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