Anna and the King

I happened to catch this Jodie Foster / Chow Yun-Fat film on TV this evening. It’s very long but also very beautiful to look at. (Who would have thought that you could do a tasteful execution scene?) Of course it’s a huge contrast with the Yul Brynner / Deborah Kerr treatment; King Mongkut of Siam is portrayed as rather like certain modernising leaders one encounters in Eastern Europe today.

I came away feeling that this was at least a much less colonially patronising film about Thailand than its predecessor, but wondered to myself how true to the actual historical story it really is. Not surprisingly, a bit of googling reveals that almost every detail is hotly disputed by Thai historians. The film appears to be reasonably faithful to Anna Leonowens’ published memoirs, but there is much dispute about how accurate her memoirs were in the first place.

Having seen the film and read the Thai side of the story, I am left with the suspicion that the truth lies somewhere in between. This is clearly still a country where respect for the monarchy is something that cannot be questioned (as compared to here, where the King is barely taken seriously), and as a result there are certain suspicious gaps in the historiography. But this again is something I’m familiar with from Eastern Europe, and even to an extent in Ireland. There’s probably a good article in there somewhere but I’m not going to write it any time soon.

Amusingly it turns out that Anna Leonowens’ sister’s grandson, William Henry Pratt, became better known as Boris Karloff.

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