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This is the story of Anna Leonowens, the English schoolteacher who came to Siam in the 1860s to teach the children of King Mongkut. She becomes involved in his affairs, from the tragic plight of a young concubine to trying to forge an alliance with Britain to a war with Burma that is orchestrated by Britain. In the meantime, a subtle romance develops between them. Written by
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She was the first English woman I had ever met. And it seemed to me she knew more about the world than anyone. But it was a world Siam was afraid would consume them. The monsoon winds had whispered her arrival like a coming storm. Some welcomed the rain, but others feared a raging flood. Still she came, unaware of the suspicion that preceded her. But it wasn't until years later, that I began to appreciate how brave she was, and how alone she must have felt. An English woman. The ...
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This is a masterful piece of filmmaking that over romanticizes a true story to improve its entertainment value. However, the generous use of artistic license can be almost completely forgiven because the final product is so pleasing. Director Andy Tennant weaves together resplendent visual images, wonderfully warm lighting, magnificent set design, breathtaking locations and beautiful costumes to produce a banquet of sensory delight. I'm surprised this film didn't get more technical awards, since it was one of the most exhilarating filmmaking experiences I had all year.
The story was engaging, though admittedly the characters were overly idealized. This is especially true of King Mongkut, who was far more educated, dashing and genteel than it would have been reasonable to expect. Also, the romantic overtones between him and Anna were a bit much. But the way they were presented enhanced the overall effect so I have difficulty being too critical.
The story also had some constructive subtleties. In addition to the obvious storylines about the education of the children, the effect Anna was having on the King and the impending war, there was a deeper message. It illustrated the truism that exposure to different peoples and cultures can help us to grow in understanding not only of them, but of ourselves as well. For it was clear that Anna was as much changed by Siam and the King as he and the children were by her.
I was highly impressed with the performance turned in by Yun-Fat Chow. His English is much improved since my last viewing of him in Replacement Killers' and The Corruptor'. He imbued King Mongkut with dignity and strength without forsaking the human side. The camera just eats him up. It is easy to see why he has been the dominating force in eastern films for years.
Jodie Foster, on the other hand, was off her game. She was good as Anna, but frankly, we've come to expect more from her. Foster is a powerful actor who didn't seem quite sure what to do with this character. In some scenes she rose to the occasion and gave us the Anna we hoped for; resolute, defiant, opinionated and principled. At other times she seemed tentative and totally intimidated by the role, just limping through her lines. I give her high marks for her English accent, but her total performance just wasn't up to her capabilities.
This was one of the most entertaining and delightful films I've seen this year. Yes, liberties were taken but I am inclined to overlook them. It was beautifully filmed and directed; a feast for the senses. I rated it a 9/10. I highly recommend it.
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