Stars: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Tom Felton
Despite all its glory, pomp and circumstance, this latest version of what most know as “The King & I” isn’t all that glorious. I give very high marks to Chow Yun-Fat as King Mongkut, though. He is superb and extraordinarily charismatic in his role as the Siamese king who becomes respectful then equally enamored of the British widowed-schoolteacher Anna Leonowens who has come to his country to tutor his oldest son. Jodie Foster as Anna, although she does a good job despite her in-and-out upper class British accent, just didn’t send any sparks up as far as I’m concerned. I really didn’t care for her in this role.
Anna comes to Siam (today’s Thailand) with her 12 year old son Louis (Tom Felton) to tutor the king’s son but ends up having to teach all 58 of his children and various wives and concubines (some of whom sport strangely modern punky hairdos) who happen to need some schooling. “Everything old is new again”? – I don’t know! Anyway, one, the newest to his harem, called Tuptim (the very sweet Bai Ling) wants to learn to write English so she joins the class. Although, we find that there’s more to her motive than she says. She is deeply unhappy with life in the royal palace; she’s in love with a peasant and not the king.
As for Anna, she’s got a big mouth and big opinions. She’s not one to bow before the king and makes it clearly known that she won’t be kept waiting. The Prime Minister and the king put her in her place in the beginning but come to realize that she’s a woman with a mind who just won’t be kept down. This impresses the king and Mongkut comes to rely her on her as a means to help modernize his country and enable him to meet British representatives on the same footing.
Meanwhile there’s a Burmese conspiracy brewing to undermine his leadership and Mongkut is faced with treachery in his own army. The story meanders between Anna and the King, the King and his Children and the King and his Country. Yun-Fat handles all of it ably. Anna thinks the world revolves around her (and Britain) and it gets annoying. Let’s face it; she’s a snob. Later on Anna sees the light.
Lotta says: This is a beautiful film. Costumes and locations are scrumptious. Right now, I can’t think who could have played Anna better but my guess is that it wouldn’t be someone from the past few decades. As for the story: tighter and neater would have helped.