Anna and the King

Anna and the King is a 1999 American biographical period drama film directed by Andy Tennant and written by Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes. Loosely based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam, which gives a fictionalized account of the diaries of Anna Leonowens, it stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat in the titular roles.

Anna and the King
Anna and the king.jpg
Film poster
Directed byAndy Tennant
Produced byLawrence Bender
Ed Elbert
Screenplay bySteve Meerson
Peter Krikes
Based onAnna and the King of Siam
by Margaret Landon
Music byGeorge Fenton
CinematographyCaleb Deschanel
Edited byRoger Bondelli
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 17, 1999 (1999-12-17) (United States)
Running time
148 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$92 million
Box office$114 million

The story concerns Anna Leonowens, an English school teacher in Siam, in the late 19th century, who becomes the teacher of King Mongkut's many children and wives. It was mostly shot in Malaysia, particularly in the Penang, Ipoh and Langkawi region.

Anna and the King was released in the United States on December 17, 1999 by 20th Century Fox. The film was subject to controversy when the Thai government deemed it historically inaccurate and insulting to the royal family and banned its distribution in the country. It received mixed reviews from critics who praised the production values, costume design, and musical score but criticised its screenplay and length, as well as Foster's choice to play the character which many deemed a role that required her to play beneath her intelligence. The film grossed $114 million worldwide, against its $92 million budget. It received two nominations at the 72nd Academy Awards: Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

Kate Winslet was offered the role of Anna after the huge success of Titanic, but turned it down along with the lead part in Shakespeare in Love to do the independent film Hideous Kinky.


Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster), a British widow, has come to Siam with her son Louis (Tom Felton) to teach English to the dozens of children of King Mongkut (Chow Yun-fat). She is a strong-willed, intelligent, valiant and benevolent woman for her time, which pleases the King. Mongkut wants to modernize Siam, thinking this will help his country resist colonialism and protect the ancient traditions that provide Siam its identity. Mongkut and Anna discuss differences between Eastern and Western love, but he dismisses the notion that a man can be happy with only one wife. Hoping to impress Britain's ambassadors, Mongkut orders a sumptuous reception and appoints Anna to organize it. During the reception, the King spars graciously and wittily with Sir Mycroft Kincaid (Bill Stewart), of the East India Company. The Europeans express their beliefs that Siam is a superstitious, backward nation. Mongkut dances with Anna at the reception.

Anna is enchanted by the royal children, particularly Princess Fa-Ying (Melissa Campbell), who adores the playful monkeys who live in the royal garden's trees. When Fa-Ying falls sick with cholera, Anna is summoned to her chambers to say goodbye. She gets there just as Fa-Ying dies in King Mongkut's arms, and the two mourn together. Mongkut later finds that one of the monkeys "borrowed" his glasses as his daughter (Goh Yi Wai) used to do. He believes that reincarnation will alleviate his grief, and Fa-ying might be reborn as one of her beloved animals. Lady Tuptim (Bai Ling), the King's newest concubine, was already engaged to marry another man, Khun Phra Balat (Sean Ghazi), when she was brought to court. Mongkut is kind to her, but Tuptim yearns for her true love. She disguises herself as a young man and runs away, joining the monastery where her former fiancé lives. She is tracked down, returned to the palace, and put on trial where she is caned. Anna, unable to bear the sight, tries to prevent the execution and is forcibly removed from the court. Her outburst prevents Mongkut from showing clemency, because he cannot be seen as beholden to her, though he feels ashamed. Tuptim and Balat are beheaded publicly.

Siam is under siege from what appears to be a British-funded coup d'état against King Mongkut, using Burmese soldiers. Mongkut sends his brother Prince Chaofa (Kay Siu Lim) and military advisor General Alak (Randall Duk Kim) and their troops to investigate. However, it turns out Alak is really the man behind the coup, and he poisons the regiment and kills Chaofa. Alak then flees into Burma, where he summons and readies troops to invade Siam, kill King Mongkut and all his children as revenge since he blames him for his family's death. Mongkut's army is too far from the palace to engage the rebels, so he creates a ruse - that a white elephant has been spotted, and the court must go to see it. This allows him to flee the palace with his children and wives, and give his armies time to reach them. Anna returns to help Mongkut, since her presence in his entourage will corroborate the tale about the white elephant. Mongkut plans to take his family to a monastery where he spent part of his life. Halfway through the journey, they see Alak's army in the distance and realize they can't outrun him. Mongkut and his soldiers set explosives on a wooden bridge high above a canyon floor as Alak and his army approach. Mongkut orders his "army" to stay back and rides to the bridge with only two soldiers. Alak, at the head of his army, confronts Mongkut on the bridge.

Anna and Louis create a brilliant deception from their hiding spot in the forest. Louis uses his horn to replicate the sound of a bugle charge, as Anna "attacks" the area with harmless fireworks. The Burmese, believing the King has brought British soldiers, panic and retreat. Alak's attempt to recall and regroup his troops fails. Alak stands alone, but Mongkut refuses to kill him, saying that Alak will have to live with his shame. As Mongkut turns to ride back to Siam, Alak grabs his gun and aims at his back, but one of Mongkut's guards detonates the explosives, blowing the bridge and Alak to pieces.

At the end of the film, Mongkut has one last dance with Anna before she leaves Siam. He tells her that now he understands why a man can be content with only one woman. A voice-over tells viewers that Chulalongkorn became king after his father's death, abolishing slavery and instituting religious freedom with his father's 'vision' assisting him.



Anna and the King received mixed reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 51% rating, based on 101 reviews, with an average rating of 5.87/10. The consensus reads, "Beautiful cinematography can't prevent Anna and the King from being boring and overly lengthy."[1] On a $92 million budget, the film grossed $114 million worldwide.[2]


After reviewing the script, with changes having been made to try to satisfy them, the Thai government did not allow the film-makers to film in Thailand. The Thai authorities did not permit the film to be distributed in Thailand due to scenes that they construed as a disrespectful and historically inaccurate depiction of King Mongkut.[3]

Tony Dabbs wrote an opinion piece for the Thai newspaper The Nation, criticizing the ban, advocating the use of strong disclaimers, and expanding the issue beyond this picture, saying: “Frankly, I would like to see all films that take strong liberties with the historical facts, as Braveheart and JFK did, also be required to state so at the end of the film”.[4]


  1. ^ Anna and the King at Rotten Tomatoes
  2. ^ Anna and the King at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Aglionby, John (December 29, 1999). "Thai censors ban 'insulting' remake of King and I film". The Guardian. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  4. ^ Dabbs, Tony. "A strong disclaimer could be better than a ban on films". The Nation. Archived from the original on August 18, 2013. Retrieved July 29, 2018.

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