I never really warmed to this film growing up, at least not like how I did to The Sound of Music.
I don't understand why this is, although I will hazard a guess later on in this post.
For sure, it's a great film, and I think there are lots of lovely lessons buried within it for both men and women.
What's not to like?
There is great scenery!
There is the 'aw factor' in abundance (the king's children)!
There is feminine allure (Anna and the royal wives)!
There is eye candy and a testosterone factory all in one (Yul Brynner)!
Speaking of Yul Brynner, I never knew until today that he was actually a Swiss citizen (although born in Russia). I found a compatriot!
The first comment to make about Yul Brynner is that he is the embodiment of why 'Game' works. He is the sort of man who I imagine would have been passed over by many women were it not for his arresting sense of self and the abundance of confidence which screams 'I am a man'.
This sort of thing is sensed by women in a very visceral way. Add his masculine voice to the mix and to an auditory woman, you have a dangerous situation on your hands :-)
The interaction between the king and Anna is one that is actually fairly unusual among Hollywood type films. It is clearly a dance between the masculine and the feminine, but there is a slight twist to this dance. I shall explain later.
When British teacher Anna Leonowens is asked to come teach the children of the King of Siam english, she accepts, on condition that he keeps his promise to house her and her son Louie in a house of their own, as opposed to his palace, because she does not want to be part of his (already considerable!) harem.
It takes her a long time to get the king to keep his promise. In fact, to get him to keep his promise, she has to keep a promise of her own.
Anna is a tough, no-nonsense widow who is a little bit too 'hard to handle' for the king's liking. I suppose, compared to the docile and sweet wives he already has, Anna is a typical Western harridan of today (but with 19th. century standards, lol).
She is hardly what you would call submissive, but she learns along the way how to be respectful to him. She is also a little too entitled, and goes so far as to demand an audience with the king when the prime minister warns her that the king is in 'bad spirit', i.e. not in a good mood.
But despite Anna's obvious faults, the king likes her. I don't think it is in a conventional romantic way - Anna is far too 'independent' for his liking - but more, in admiration of her education, and perhaps for her 'lively spirit', to put it in the most polite way I can find. :-)
Anna proves useful to the king in many ways other than to teach his children and wives.
He uses her british connections to sweeten up the colonial masters who were getting ideas that he was a 'barbarian', by taking her up on her idea to host a lavish banquet for them.
It was a resounding success, not withstanding a touch of jealousy displayed by the king when he suddenly realises he has competition for Anna's affections from her long-time friend, Edward.
The king's catchphrase of 'et cetera, et cetera, et cetera' is a hilarious reminder of how a man, enamoured of a woman he finds curious will 'parrot' her in much the same way a child might. I think Anna recognised this when towards the end of the film she lets slip to Louie that she thought the king sometimes acted the same age as him! (She meant 'emotional age' in this sense, of course).
The king was supremely masculine, in an almost 'caveman' sense (and yet he was also bizarrely very refined, and certainly hyper-advanced in his thinking: he was a self-taught scholar, a monk no less, despite having many wives and children - and having your wives and children educated to the level he was demanding of Anna was certainly not a common thing in Siam in his époque)...
The king makes some notable quotes in this film. Some of them are hilarious, others are simply eternal truths.
Like this one:
"A woman was made to please man.
A woman is blossom.
A man is like the honey bee, to fly from blossom to blossom.
A honey bee must be free, but blossom must not ever fly from bee, to bee, to bee."
When Anna insists that Western men are monogamous, the king dismisses this concept as 'not normal'.
Is the King of Siam a Red Pill King???
Nothing says 'alpha' like him in this scene where he is introducing his children to Anna. Note how his 'mini-me' the crown prince has assimilated his way of walking. The apple did not fall far from the tree in this case, did it? :-)
And how sweet that his daughter presents Anna with a flower...
In fact, this whole scene reminds me of another alpha male presenting his many children to an unattached female, with the same panache and poise of the proud father who is master over his children...
Remember Captain Von Trapp and Maria? The same 'military' operation to get the children presented, the pomp and circumstance, the showmanship...
These two guys could be brothers. In fact, the two women could be sisters too, both being 'hard work' for the men when they first encounter them.
I really like these scenes with the children, by the way. I think in a home where the children are taught how to show reverence to the father in this way, there is order and harmony. And actually, love too. This is fatherly love at its best, I think!
Believe it or not, this started out as a geography lesson :-)
Despite my going on and on about Anna, I actually do not find her the absolute 'star of the show'.
I think that honour goes to the king's chief wife, Lady Thiang.
I think she represents the absolute peak of ladylike dignity and poise. This woman should have been threatened by Anna's presence. But she wasn't.
She simply wasn't.
The king was at liberty to take on more wives. Which he did on a regular basis, I am sure :-)
In fact, he had just acquired a 'gift' in the form of a young girl (who was miserable in the harem because she had her heart on someone else...).
But had the king fancied Anna in the romantic sense, Lady Thiang's position as 'chief wife' could well have been in danger, purely because of Anna's position and status. So Lady Thiang had plenty to fear. But this classy lady had no fear. She just had warmth and plenty of grace.
She slowly taught Anna how to be the ultimate wife without Anna herself realising this.
Lady Thiang knew she could not influence her husband the way Anna could. So she used Anna to do her dirty work for her, with the aim of helping her husband.
But she taught Anna how to do this dirty work in the most gracious way possible, having had years of experience of how her husband ticks.
'Don't give him advice', she warned. 'Just give him suggestions'.
Anna does this, to great success. The scene where she achieves her goal of steering him to do what he needs to do but without making it look like she is advising him is a classic. Funny but delightfully touching. Helen Andelin would have been proud :-)
In the interim, Anna also learns to acquiesce to his demands to never have her head above his - difficult ask, as he usually insisted on sitting or lying down most of the time when he was in her company.
When she submits to him in this way, he gives her what she wants, her own house.
Is there a lesson in there somewhere?
Anna must have found him difficult.
He certainly did her!
His 'you are a very difficult woman!' rebuke at her made me laugh out loud, especially the way he said it with his index finger pointing exasperatedly at her.
Reminds me of another Westerner being rebuked in a similar manner by an Oriental character:
Sgt. Nagata (points to Jim): Boy, difficult boy!
Anna and the king have a certain je ne sais quoi thing going on, but we never get to witness it in its fullness. So this film is strictly speaking not a 'romantic' film as such. The closest we get to romance is this scene.
It is more of a face-off between a man and a woman in a way that is a struggle for respect from both sides, rather than a quest for romantic love.
My theory is that this is what prevented me from warming to this film when I was younger.
My younger female self rejected this film because 'where is the romance!' lol.
But now I see the value of a film like this. Full of lessons, teachings about life, and not to talk of a-laugh-a-minute.
I wouldn't hesitate to nominate the film as one of the best...ever made.