At last, a movie that in
a touching and convincing manner portrays the chain of events that were instrumental
in forming the country known, today as Thailand. Jodie Foster as Anna and Chow
Yun-Fat as the King have a chemistry working on-screen that delights when their
conflicts are portrayed, and really moves you through the intricate subtleties
in their relationship.
The story of Anna Leonowens
is famous. The world has come to know about it through the diaries that she
maintained during her stay in Siam. A widowed teacher of English descent stationed
in India, Anna, is summoned to become the tutor to the son who is the heir to
the King of Siam.
She is a fiercely independent women who dares to stand up to the king and talk
againts the atrocities that are dealt upon the common people because of the
rigid social structure and the slavery system prevalent in Siam. The conflict
between a powerful man and a powerful woman has always been at the heart of
great love stories, especially when the woman is the one challenging the man's
authority and superiority. In Anna's case, significant cultural differences
must be overcome as well, but she is ultimately to claim her place as the King's
The rules in Siam are pretty rigid and the King, elevated to the position of
a demigod, is pretty stubborn at times when the subject of reforms is broached,
but Anna refuses to take no for an answer, whether she is attempting to free
a slave, treating a prince like any other student, or speaking her mind in public
and private. Though it is usually Anna who confronts the King with one issue
or the other, the King does get back at her once in a touching confrontation,
when he asks her, "What does it mean to be truly a woman, and not just a widow,
a mother and a teacher?"
The relation between Anna and the King is beautifully picturised keeping in
mind the delicate subtleties involved. Anna comes across as a strong character,
who, in spite of the various stresses that she undergoes, emerges with an emphatic
victory. She refuses a lavish gift from the King because of the strings that
might be attached.
The story captures the cultural intricacies of an exotic civilisation that
has faded out. The King has a harem that has 26 wives and 60 odd children. The
characterisation of these has been done well, and in spite of fleeting appearances,
some of the children do sort of grow on you. There are some tender moments when
the lives and the dilemmas of the women in his harem are explored.
The movie does include moments of action and military exploits, but is, at
its core, nothing but a breathtaking study of the relation between Anna and
the King. Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat literally live their roles and carry
the movie on their able shoulders. All said and done, this is a film that will
go down in the movie archives as a classic to be remembered.