"Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy When I am with you, getting to know what to say Haven't you noticed suddenly I'm bright and breezy? Because of all the beautiful and new things I'm learning about you Day by day."
Originally conceived as a vehicle for actress Getrude Lawrence, Rodgers and Hammerstein's sixth musical tells the story of Anna Leonowens, a schoolteacher from Wales who travels with her son to Siam to teach the children of the King. It covers their entire history. From the beginning, at least according to Anna's account, they had repeated clashes personally, professionally, and culturally. The last two are related, since she was hired to teach his children, wives, and concubines about Western culture and bring Siam up to date, which is difficult when the King believes she is wrong. All the while, in the greatest tradition of adversarial love stories, they fall in love with each other.In 1956 the musical was adapted into a movie starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. In 1999, it was yet again made into a movie, this time animated, that has its own page.See also: Anna and the King.
The King And I contains examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: The movie, widely considered to be the best of the R&H screen adaptations (or at least second only to The Sound of Music), taking a Best Picture nomination at the 1957 Oscars. Oscar Hammerstein II called it the finest work he and Richard Rodgers ever produced.
Bald of Awesome: The King's original Broadway actor, Yul Brynner, had his head shaved at the makeup artist's recommendation. Brynner carried this trope on into the movie, and several of his successors have tried to accomplish this in revivals.
Additionally, Yul Brynner carried this trope into every other project he did for the rest of his life.
Banned in Thailand: Not surprisingly, the film is rather disliked in Thailand. What's worse is that no matter how the filmmakers rework the story, it always ends up getting banned in that country. A key part of the problem is that there are very strict laws about lese-majeste (basically, insulting the monarch) in Thailand; it wasn't so long ago that the king was literally revered as a god, and he still has a very special status. King Mongkut is viewed by today's Thai people with the respect that Americans would have for, say, Abraham Lincolnnote (The present holder of the throne, King Bhumibol, who's reigned for over 60 years, is greatly beloved in Thailand). The fundamental problem that modern directors seem to be missing is that no matter how respectfully the King is portrayed, the basic story still requires that Thailand be a backwards country in dire need of being civilized by Westerners, and ultimately that their King is wrong.
Barefoot Poverty: The entire population of Thailand except for the king, and his wives in the scene where they are introduced to the British imperialists.
Actually, as the title picture shows, even the king.
Bittersweet Ending: The King dies, he and Anna never act on their love, and she and his advisor are the only ones who notice. But his son promises sweeping changes, including ending slavery and prostration before the king.
The King has some fun with this and eventually (in his mind) trips her up
Catch the Conscience: Tuptim, at the end of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," declares: "I too am glad for death of King. Of any King who pursues slave who is unhappy and tries to join her lover!" She almost gets carried away before a musical signal reminds her to deliver the bittersweet epilogue of the story. The King does not ignore this insult to his authority.
In the movie, the King commanded her to end her speech with a snap of his fingers.
Costume Porn: Ladies, at some point you lusted after that pink silk ballgown. Admit it.
Glad You Thought of It: Invoked. It's a minor plot point that Anna has to do this because she cannot be seen as offering advice to the King. So she pretends to be guessing what he's going to do - and quite naturally he says that she's guessed right, and then proceeds to do just what she "guessed" that he would do.
Love Epiphany: You can actually see it on both their faces as the King puts his hands on Anna's waist when they begin dancing.
Mighty Whitey: When you get down to it, this is basically the premise (and the reason why Thailand will never see this or any adaptation of The King and I).
Mood Whiplash: As Anna and the King waltz in a moment of shared happiness, a guard reports the capture of Tuptim, creating a heated debate between Anna and the King over whether or not Tuptim deserves a whipping.
Mooning: The King's wives perform a quite accidental version thanks to Anna dressing them up in huge hoop skirts to greet the English ambassador. When the King arrives and they all prostrate themselves before him as usual, Anna, standing behind them, gets a first-hand reminder that she forgot to provide them with undergarments. With no time to correct the mistake, all she can do is instruct them to "keep your backs to the wall". Later, when the ambassador arrives, they see his monocle and become frightened of "the evil eye", lifting their skirts as they run away.
Non-Singing Voice: In the 1956 film, Marni Nixon dubbed Deborah Kerr, who played Anna, Leona Gordon dubbed Rita Moreno, who played Tuptim (Moreno did her own singing for "Small House of Uncle Thomas"), and Rueben Fuentes dubbed Carlos Rivas, who played Lun Tha. The 1999 film also includes some non singing voices, noted below.
Painful Rhyme: Lampshaded in-universe when Anna sings "Shall I Tell You What I Think Of You?", mispronouncing "employee" to rhyme with "pay" and "libertine" to rhyme with "concubine"... and then correcting herself.
Crosses over with Gorgeous Period Dress - those huge skirts of the 1850s are straight out of the history books.
However, the over-the-elbow ("opera") gloves that Anna wears during the banquet scene are totally wrong for the period in question (the 1860's). Women in that era wore wrist-length gloves for both daytime and evening; long gloves, which had last been the mode in the Regency/Romantic period (up to the 1820's), did not come back into fashion until the 1870's.
Urban Legend: Yul Brynner dancing with Deborah Kerr after having a lung surgically removed. Unfortunately, one of the Rodgers and Hammerstein tributes on the Sound of Music Blu-Ray speaks of this legend as something true.
Verbal Tic: After Anna explains the phrase "et cetera" to the King, he acquires a tendency to insert it into several of his demands, songs, conversations, et cetera. King Mongkut really did use this in his English writing, although there's no evidence either that Anna taught it to him or that he used it when speaking English.
Not to mention outright lies. The story of Tuptim, which Anna admits was "based on palace gossip", never happened. Unfaithful concubines in the time of Mongkut were simply dismissed. Anna herself was not all that she appeared to be. She took great pains to conceal from the world that she was half Indian, changing her name repeatedly and repudiating family members who could out her. Also, all the film and theatrical versions of her story are based on Margaret Landon's novelized adaptation of Anna's books, Anna and the King of Siam, and not even on Anna's own work.
Your Normal Is Our Taboo: Is it EVER. Just to name a few examples, we have the King's promise to give Anna a house adjoining the palace, which he conveniently forgets; normal for a Siamese monarch, but apparently not for a British one. Anna also sees polygamy as this (perhaps erroneously, considering her own country's history of polygamous monarchs). Then there's the whole beating-of-Tuptim arc—definitely a European taboo. On the other side of the coin, the way Siamese women dress would be considered a European taboo, as would the fact that they apparently don't normally wear undergarments.