This is how the story ends: With soothing music and unspoken truths, with restraint and melancholy, without even a kiss. Anna dancing with King Mongkut (Shall we dance?) – an Englishwoman dancing with the king. Better yet, a woman in the arms of a man. A strange sort of woman, stubborn and courageous ("Husband must have been very understanding," the king remarks), at the end of a long and trying journey, at peace with herself. The king holding on to her, knowing he must let her go, overwhelmed by her brief and luminous presence. A school teacher and (a lesser?) god, reading each other’s thoughts, ready for their happy ending, aware of its impossibility. The prince (one of the king’s 58 children), watching them from a distance, understanding, for the first time, the role of one woman in the life of a man. Siam, the only uncolonized nation in Southeast Asia – celebrating the beauty of its customs, the wisdom of its politics, the fantastic nature of its architectural designs. East meeting West on the terrace of the king’s palace, at the edge of a new world of gigantic proportions.
This is how the story begins: With Anna surviving the death of her husband "one awful day at the time." With a little boy – her child – learning to live with the absence of his father. With daily lessons in science and humility. With untimely discussions of slavery and injustice. With a world in turmoil which refuses to be shut out, forever. With a king who doesn’t believe that "the British way is the only way" and a Victorian woman who won’t worship the ground under his feet. With rigid class distinctions, frequent battles of wits and awkward moments of tenderness.
"Ultimately," director Andy Tennant (Ever After) remarks, "even an epic film has to be about people." Charming, subtle and – for once – unarmed, Chow Yun-Fat (King Mongkut) seems to understand this better than Jodie Foster (Anna). Still, when the music starts and the couples take their places on the dance floor, we know that everything is as it should be, that in 1999 we feel as passionate about Anna and the King as we did, once upon a time, in a not so distant past.
Send comments to [email protected].