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Theatre / The King and I

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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
—"Getting to Know You"

Originally conceived as a vehicle for actress Gertrude 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.

Gertrude Lawrence brought the idea for the musical to Rodgers and Hammerstein after seeing the 1946 film Anna and the King of Siam with Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne. The original Broadway production received five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Additionally, the Broadway revivals from 1996 (starring Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Philips) and 2015 (starring Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe) won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical.

In 1956 the musical was adapted into a movie starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, the latter of whom also originated the role of the King on Broadway. (In 1972 he also played the King in the TV Sitcom Anna and the King - Samantha Eggar played Anna here.) 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, which also had Ernest Lehman as the screenwriter), taking a Best Picture nomination at the 1957 Oscars. Oscar Hammerstein II called it the finest work he and Richard Rodgers ever produced.
    • Discussed In-Universe when Anna happens upon Mongkut studying the Bible. Mongkut dismisses Moses as a fool for claiming the world was created in six days, and Anna explains that the Bible, and its associated creation myth, was written not by men of science, but by men of faith, and they both agree that no matter how long their respective cultures believe it took for the world to be created, their respective creation myths are derived from a single sequence of events beginning from the Big Bang, by which this initial creation event was not yet known.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the novel Anna and the King of Siam, Anna leaves Siam and the King dies a year later, as happened in real life. In the musical, Anna is about to leave Siam when she gets the news that the King is dying, is with him at his deathbed, and resolves to stay in Siam with the young King Chulalongkorn and the other royal children.
  • Animated Adaptation: The 1999 film.
  • Author Filibuster: In-Universe. Tuptim's in-universe adaptation of The Small House of Uncle Thomas is a thinly-veiled criticism for her slavery and her separation from her lover. In the middle of the play she dispenses with all subtleties, causing big problems for her.
  • Bald of Authority: Invoked. 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 bald kings are featured in several of the revivals for the musical and adaptations in other mediums.
  • Barefoot Poverty: The entire population of Thailand, although not necessarily because of poverty, as even the king and his court go barefoot. There are a few exceptions where the king wears jeweled slippers, and his wives wear western dresses and shoes when they are introduced to the British imperialists.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The author swears it's true. It isn't. Well some of it is. Anna Leonowens was governess to King Mongkut's children and she did act as his English secretary. Mongkut's letters and will suggests she was a valued royal servant - anything beyond that is questionable. Putting it mildly. The biography Masked by Alfred Habegger attempts to set the record straight.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The King and Anna all the way. They start to fall in love in part thanks to frequently butting heads.
  • Beta Couple: Lun Tha and Tuptim.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The King dies, he and Anna never act on their love, and she and his advisor are the only ones who notice his passing. But his son promises sweeping changes, including ending prostration before the king.
  • Blatant Lies: When Anna tells the King, doubting her wisdom, that she is much Older Than She Looks.
    • 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 (and cross-dressing gents), at some point you lusted after that pink silk ballgown. Admit it.
  • Covert Pervert: Some versions of the stage play make out the English ambassador Edward to be this, with the line reading after he's accidentally flashed by the king's wives showing he did not mind at all.
  • Culture Clash: The King's manners against Anna's.
  • Dance of Romance: Provides one of the archetypal examples in "Shall We Dance?"
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Edward, the English ambassador, asked Anna to marry him before she met her husband. She declined and it's implied he still carries a torch for her.
    • King Mongkut and Anna never get as far as even saying their true feelings for one another.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In Anna and the King of Siam, Tuptim is burned at the stake. Here, she's implied to commit suicide offscreen.
  • Digital Destruction: The 2014 Blu-Ray has a bluer tint than previous home video versions have.
    • The 1981 Laserdisc by Magnetic Video is overly yellowed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Tuptim is heavily implied to commit suicide on learning of Lun Tha's death.
  • Due to the Dead: Discussed very early on in some stage productions, when it's mentioned that fireworks and royal funeral pyres go hand in hand.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: The King butchers English grammar.
    • Partially subverted in that he learns very quickly and uses what he knows to tremendous advantage.
  • Ending by Ascending: At the end of the interpolated ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas," Little Eva dies and goes to the arms of Buddha. She is given wings and she climbs an onstage staircase through the clouds up to where Buddha is sitting, as the chorus sings "Praise to Buddha!"
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: The kids have troubling believing that snow is a real thing.
  • Fiery Redhead: Anna in the film.
  • Forbidden Romance: Deconstructed with Tuptim and Lun Tha. It's shown how it's really not fun or sexy to be in love with someone when your duty is to another man. It ends tragically for both lovers.
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: Louis shrieks to his mother that one of the men meeting them is naked when he looks at him through the spyglass, clearly scandalizing the boy. He just doesn't have a shirt on and Anna is quick to correct Louis by saying he's "half-naked."
    • In general, this is Anna's reaction to the way women in the royal palace dress. For a European woman of the time period, they really would have seemed barely-clothed despite still having just about everything covered up.
  • 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.
  • Lighter and Softer: Though partly based on the script for the 1946 film Anna and the King of Siam, Hammerstein's script cuts some of the darker story points: in the original movie, Louis dies (leaving the King's children as Anna's only children), and we actually see Tuptim being burned at the stake, while here her death is merely an implied offscreen suicide.
    • Cutting Louis's death, incidentally, made the musical more historically accurate, since the real Louis Leonowens outlived his mother and returned to Thailand to start his own business.
  • 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.
  • Marry the Nanny: Anna is hired as a governess for the King of Siam's children. While sparks fly between them, the two of them never act on their love, with the King's death at the end sinking all hopes of a relationship.
  • Mood Whiplash: As Anna and the King dance the polka 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.
  • The Mourning After: It's clear Anna still isn't quite over the death of her husband. She brings him up frequently and wears a locket with his picture in it.
  • Odd Friendship: Anna and the king as well as Louis and the crown prince in the stage show.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: During the meeting with the English ambassador, the king objects to Anna's dress, which is a full-length ballroom gown but with bare shoulders. When Anna points out that his own wives have worn far less, the king responds that Anna's dress covers her up completely except for her shoulders and cleavage, which draws more attention compared to his wives who wear much less in general.
  • Painful Rhyme: Lampshaded 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.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Oh My God. Anna's costumes weighed over forty pounds apiece. Deborah Kerr lost twelve pounds during filming as a result.
    • 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.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Anna pleads with the king not to kill Tuptim.
  • Pretty Boy: Apparently Anna's husband was one. Lady Thiang remarks on him looking like this in his picture, saying he has a "pretty face," and Anna agrees.
  • Private Tutor: Anna is hired as a private tutor for the King of Siam's children.
  • Rule of Three: The King is prone to talking this way. It's normal in Thai; to repeat a word or phrase emphasizes it.
    • "Who who who?"
    • "Wellwellwell?"
    • "Eateateat!"
    • "Put it on finger. Putiton putiton putiton!"
    • "Down down down!"
    • "Bow bow bow!"
    • And of course, "et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!"note 
  • Scenery Porn: The sets in the 1956 film are spot on, especially the palace. The tagline referenced this, and the movie's status as the second and last full-length feature to use CinemaScope 55 film (Carousel became the first to use it a few months earlier), by proclaiming, "More than your eyes have ever seen! More than your heart has ever known!"
  • Secret-Keeper: Anna and the head wife Lady Thiang are the only ones to know Tuptim and Lun Tha are romantically involved. Anna keeps it quiet out of sympathy for the couple and Lady Thiang does so because she doesn't want to embarrass the king.
  • Self-Soothing Song: "I Whistle a Happy Tune" doubles as a Bravado Song, as Anna sings about how she whistles a happy tune to get herself through her fears, before encouraging her son to do the same.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: While Anna is never ugly, her clothes are extremely modest and her hoopskirt prevents any look at her actual figure. When she wears a much more revealing dress for the dinner with the English ambassador the king can't help but gape, and stumbling over his words, asking if this is what all English women wear, et cetera.
  • Show Within a Show: The Small House of Uncle Thomas.
  • Song of Prayer: The song "Puzzlement", in which the king contrasts the black-and-white world of his youth with the shades-of-gray world he knows as a man, ends with the King praying to Buddha to show him the way.
  • Stairway to Heaven: Little Eva dies, is given wings, and ascends an onstage staircase, up through the clouds, to Buddha.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: And it remains unresolved to the end, as the characters can never admit it to each other or even to themselves.
  • Urban Legend: Yul Brynner dancing with Deborah Kerr after having a lung surgically removed. Possibly connected to the fact that for two years after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in the early 1980s, Brynner continued to perform in a revival of the stage play, dying only a few months after it closed. In 1956, however, he was perfectly healthy.
    • Brynner played the role of the king non-stop continually from 1952 until his death in 1985, only taking breaks to make movies (such as the 1956 adaptation and the 1972 sitcom Anna And The King). In truth, except for the sitcom, after making the film, Brynner left the role behind for 20 years until he was brought back for a revival in 1976, at which point he stepped away from making movies and focused on playing the King on stage for the rest of his life.
  • 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.
    • There's also the Kings Rule of Three tendency: "What-what-WHAT!"
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The musical was based the non-fiction novel Anna and the King of Siam which was filmed in 1946. These in turn were based on two books by the real Anna Leonowens, The English Governess at the Siamese Court and Romance of the Harem, although these have been criticised due to a lack of objectivity.
    • Not to mention outright lies. The story of Tuptim, which Anna admits was "based on palace gossip", never happened. In fact, Mongkut himself had instituted a law saying concubines who did not have children could apply for dismissal and marry whom they chose. Petitions were actually allowed even in the time of Mongkut's father. Neither beheading (as in the 1999 film) nor burning at the stake (which is what Anna says happened) were ever done in Siamnote . 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 Anna and the King of Siam, a novelized adaptation of Anna's books, and not even on Anna's own work.
  • War Elephants: The King plans to send War-Elephants to help Abraham Lincoln. Truth in Television for once, although this wasn't for The American Civil War, which wasn't on yet. He was just offering something he thought would be useful to the people of America. His two letters, handwritten in Thai and enclosed with gifts, were addressed to President Buchanan "or to whomsoever the people have elected anew in place of President Buchanan". Lincoln's response is some of his most beautiful writing.note 
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Tuptim's final fate is never shown. She's last seen breaking down and being dragged out of the room upon hearing Lun Tha is dead. There's a subtle implication she commits suicide afterwards
  • White Man's Burden: Deconstructed. Historically during the reign of King Mongkut in the 1850s, Siam came into the crosshairs of European imperialism for the first time. King Mongkut was quick to realize what happened to nations who rejected or failed to come to an accommodation with the Europeans. For this reason King Mongkut himself actively promoted European culture and science in his kingdom, and indeed employing Anna Leonowens was just one part of his "westernization" campaign. The movie portrays this more or less accurately, and in the end his strategy proved successful. Siam came under pressure from Europeans but never fully lost its independence - one of only a few countries to do so. However, the film also portrays this critically in the character of the King's Prime Minister, the Kralahome, who warns Anna that trying to change the King will only end badly. In the confrontation between Anna and the King at the climax of the film, the King declares that ultimately Thailand must be run his way. Neither side is portrayed as being entirely correct, and the idea of learning to understand something or someone different is the main theme of the whole story.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: Is it EVER. To name a few: Anna sees the King's polygamy as this, being put off by his numerous wives, concubines, and dozens of children. She also finds the respect afforded the king by his subjects to be groveling and excessive (no head must be higher than his, etc.) Then there's the whole beating-of-Tuptim arc—definitely a European taboo. The way Siamese women dress would be considered a European taboo, as would the fact that they apparently don't normally wear undergarments.

Alternative Title(s): The King And I