Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index


Directed by Andy Tennant (1999, 20th Century Fox)
Starring Jodie Foster, and Chow Yun-Fat

A schoolteacher introduces the king of Siam to compassion, justice and equality.



4 stars

December 27th, 1999 in the Theatre


The story is a simple one, except that it is based on true life diaries.  A British schoolteacher travels to Siam to teach the son of the king in the ways of the Western world.  She is quickly over-run by their customs and traditions, and the way they treat outsiders. 

But she refuses to yield.  She is very strong-willed, and stands up for her rights no matter that the man she is trying to speak with is the king.  That she wouldn't treat the King of Britain this way doesn't even cross her mind.  She is a British citizen, and is thus not under the influence of any other sovereign. 

Her first class is, of course, made of great difficulty.  The king's son doesn't want to be taught by a woman, much less a foreign one.  He refuses to write his "lines" on the board for fighting in class, and so spends almost the whole night in the classroom.

The subplot is a possible invasion of the Burmese, which is suspected to be backed by the British.  But it is not, and there is a great scene where we discover who is behind it all. 

This leads to a confrontation between the King and the Burmese army, which takes place over a bridge crossing a wondrous river.  The scene works really well, and its resolution, with his son taking the blame, also shows how far the characters have come. 

The scenery was magnificent.  The lush jungles, the rivers and the palace, were just breathtaking.  The schoolroom was on the river, which made it the place of some great scenery. 

The characters were also beautiful.  They interacted with each other perfectly, and we could see how amused the King was with Anna's attitude, but also how it frustrated him. 

The movie balanced the attitudes perfectly, I think.  When Anna talks about the British way being the way of the world, her two "servants" look at each other knowingly.  She talks to the King's son about slavery, but does not recognize her servants as being slaves, because they are "only" from India. 

And it is her meddling that gets her into trouble.  As one British lord says to her, she should stay away from politics.  She barges in and demands that things be changed, without realizing that if the King did that, he would probably not wake up again some morning soon, for someone would have taken his head and put another on the throne.  Someone who is not as wise as the current king.  This is demonstrated perfectly in the situation of the slave, and even better with the trial of Tuptim. 

Finally, the banquet was wonderfully done.  From the servants smashing all the wine glasses by bowing to the King, to the insults at the dinner table (at which Anna further demonstrates how far out of her league she is), to finally, the waltz, it felt like beauty come alive. 

Of course, I can't forget the King's little girl.  She was precious, and we could feel the way she radiated emotion, from playing monkey, to kissing her father goodnight, to all of her drawings, to when her face lit up when Anna was called to her bed.

All in all, the movie was beautiful.  I didn't think it was too long, as some have said, and although I don't like the British snobbery, I didn't think it overshadowed too much of the movie, as it was offset by other moments that were more truthfully conveyed through the eyes of the side characters.


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