Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1999. Fox 2000 Pictures, Lawrence Bender Productions. Screenplay by Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens. Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel. Produced by Lawrence Bender, Ed Elbert. Music by George Fenton, Robert Kraft. Production Design by Luciana Arrighi. Costume Design by Jenny Beavan. Film Editing by Roger Bondelli. Academy Awards 1999. Golden Globe Awards 1999.
So-so effort that features a surprisingly dull Jodie Foster as Anna Leonowens, the true-life Indian-born Englishwoman who journeyed to Siam in the late 19th century to teach “the modern world of science” to the many children of King Mongkut (Yun-Fat Chow). All the fascinating power-play dialogue in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical version of 1956 (The King and I) that drove that film as a great character piece has been substituted here for politically-correct ease and charm between the two leads, leaving little room for challenge: what was most intriguing about watching Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner battle it out in the old version was seeing two incredibly opposite people finding the middle of the road. Here, Mongkut finds Anna delightful upon first meeting her and the flame just never ignites. Historical accuracy was definitely a goal here, and it is achieved with incredible opulence and a fair measure of depth, though the flair director Andy Tennant showed in Ever After for not taking himself too seriously is nowhere to be found. Bai Ling gives a strong performance as Tuptim, the newest of the King’s many wives, who chooses the duty to her heart over her duty to her master and suffers greatly for it. The sets and costumes are worth a good look, though it’s not on the whole a very memorable experience.