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The Next Reel • Season 12 • Series: 1947 Academy Award Best Writing Screenplay Nominees • Anna and the King of Siam

Anna and the King of Siam

“That king certainly hasn’t very good manners.”

The Less-Singing, More Burnings Version

Audiences have been fascinated with the life of Anna Leonowens and her time spent in Thailand (then Siam) teaching English to King Mongkut’s wives and children. What’s the draw though? Perhaps the story of a woman on her own in a foreign country? Or a common person who is swept up into a world of royalty and has the ear of a king. Hard to say, but it’s a fascinating story, even if it does feel one-sided. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we kick off our 1947 Academy Award Best Writing, Screenplay nominee series with a conversation about John Cromwell’s 1946 film Anna and the King of Siam.

Here’s a hint at what we talk about.

The first hurdle with this film is the rough brownface that all the actors playing the people of Siam wear. Yes, it’s from the era – we acknowledge that. That doesn’t make it any easier to take. There are also all the other trappings that go along with this element – pidgin English, playing the characters as simpler people, etc. It’s frustrating. 

Once you can get past that, there are still the story elements dealing with colonialism and the entire idea of a white woman (savior?) coming in to teach English to the children and wives of King Mongkut along with the British way so they can all act more civilized. It’s a struggle, but at the same time, teachers teach. She’s just doing her job, right? 

Past all the struggles, there is the core of the story involving the complex relationship between Anna and King Mongkut. Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison are great in their roles, and we enjoy the back and forth that we get with them as they initially try to figure each other out and test each other, pushing boundaries, then eventually becoming trusted friends. 

We discuss the other players, the story and how this iteration differs from other versions, how Cromwell directed it, the look of it, and more. There’s a lot to discuss with this one. We have a great time talking about it, so check it out then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!

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