AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The King and I
Director: Walter Lang (Dir)
Release Date:   Jul 1956
Duration (in mins):  132-133
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Cast: Deborah Kerr  (Anna Leonowens)
  Yul Brynner  (King Mongkut of Siam)
  Rita Moreno  (Tuptim)
 

Summary: In 1862, Anna Leonowens, a young, widowed English schoolteacher, arrives in Bangkok, Thailand, with her son Louis, having accepted a job teaching English to the children of the King of Siam. Greeted by the king's stern prime minister, the Kralahome, and his half-naked minions, Anna puffs up her courage. After the Kralahome informs her that she is to live in the palace rather than being granted her own home as previously promised, the plucky Anna charges into King Mongkut's chambers just as the graceful Tuptim is being presented as a gift from the Prince of Burma. When the king refuses her an audience, Anna unceremoniously charges forward. Although entrenched in tradition, the imperious king sincerely desires to usher his country into the modern era of scientific enlightenment, and so decrees that Anna should also teach his bevy of wives. Charmed by Mongkut's myriad children, Anna agrees to stay even though the king refuses her request of a house. Curious about this Western woman, the king's wives, led by Lady Thiang, the Number One wife who learned English from the missionaries, address Anna as "Sir," because her knowledge of science places her above the status of a "lowly woman." When the wives deride Tuptim because she longs to be with her lover, Lun Tha, rather than the king, Ann fondly recalls her beloved late husband. To spite the king, Anna teaches her pupils songs and proverbs about houses and honor. When Anna introduces a new map of the world challenging the supremacy of Siam, the children rebel until the king appears and admonishes them to take advantage of their education. Later, Prince Chulalongkorn, the heir to the throne, impugns Anna when she criticizes slavery, an institution that is embraced by his country. Late one night, the king summons Anna to take his dictation of a letter to President Lincoln. Mongkut, reclining, proclaims that no subject's head may be higher than his, and so orders Anna to lower hers. As Anna sweeps out of the palace, she comes upon Lun Tha, pining for Tuptim. Touched, Anna arranges a meeting between the lovers, and Lun Tha promises he will return one day to free Tuptim. Troubled by reports of English imperialism, the king becomes incensed when Anna's pupils persist in singing "Home Sweet Home." When the king asserts that Anna is his servant, she resigns and runs out of the room in tears. Afterward, Lady Thiang pleads with Anna to help guide Mongkut, who is apprehensive over rumors that the British regard him as a barbarian and hence intend to overthrow his kingdom and turn Siam into a protectorate. Swallowing her pride, Anna goes to the king and offers her help. Upon discovering that the British ambassador, accompanied by his aide, Edward Ramsay, is coming to Siam, Anna, an old sweetheart of Ramsay, suggests staging a sophisticated banquet in honor of their guests. In gratitude, the king finally promises her a home of her own. At the banquet, Tuptim narrates The Small House of Uncle Thomas , a play about an innocent girl, the victim of the evils of slavery. After the play comes to an end, Tuptim condemns slavery and is about to plead for her own freedom when the king snaps his fingers and the room breaks into applause. By the time the audience calls for the play's author, Tuptim has disappeared. After the British leave that evening, the king gives Anna one of his rings in appreciation of her efforts. When she challenges his right to keep a harem, he retorts that while women must remain faithful, men are entitled to a plentitude of wives. Anna replies that in reality, one man can love only one woman, and then recalls her first dance and invites the king to dance with her. They swirl around the room, but their mood of merriment is shattered by the news that Tuptim has been found running away with Lun Tha. For her dishonor, the king orders Tuptim beaten, and Anna charges that he never loved anyone and never will. Taking the whip into his own hands, the king is about to strike Tuptim when he crumples and runs from the room. When the Kralahome then accuses Anna of destroying the king, she announces that she will leave on the next boat and hands him the ring to return to Mongkut. Several weeks pass, and on the night that Louis and Anna are to sail, Lady Thiang appears with news that the king is dying, having shut himself away, refusing to eat or sleep since the banquet. After the prince states he does not want to be king and begs for Anna's help, Lady Thiang hands her a letter written by the king. When Anna reads the letter, which voices the king's deep gratitude and respect, she breaks into tears and hurries to visit him on his deathbed. As the king hands her the ring once more, his children beg Anna not to leave them in darkness, and when the ship's horn sounds, Anna sends Louis to tell the captain to return their luggage. Passing his title to the prince, Mongkut asks Chulalongkorn what his first act as king will be. After issuing a proclamation against bowing to the king, Chulalongkorn declares that his subjects should look upon each other with a kindness of spirit. Satisfied that he is leaving his kingdom in capable hands, the king quietly dies. 

Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Director: Walter Lang (Dir)
  Eli Dunn (Asst dir)
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck (Pres)
  Charles Brackett (Prod)
Writer: Ernest Lehman (Scr)

Subject Major: Cultural conflict
  English in foreign countries
  Kings
  Mothers and sons
  Teachers
  Thailand
 
Subject Minor: Ambassadors
  Banquets
  Children
  Concubinage
  Dancing
  Etiquette
  Harems
  Houses
  Letters
  Abraham Lincoln
  Palaces
  Polygamy
  Prime ministers
  Princes
  Progress
  Romance
  Slavery
  Uncle Tom's Cabin (Play)
  Whips and whippings
  Widows

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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