Filmsite Movie Review
The King and I (1956)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The 'Play Within A Play' - The Small House of Uncle Thomas:

To provide theatrical entertainment for the guests, Tuptim narrated her seditious version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's controversial, anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, known as The Small House of Uncle Thomas - it was presented as a traditional Siamese ballet (performed as a "play within a play"). Characters in the retelling included "Poor Eliza Poor unfortunate slave, Eliza's lord and master: King Simon of Legree. She hates her lord and master and fears him."

In the tale, Uncle Tom's House was in Kentucky, ruled by a wicked, slave-holding King known as Simon of Legree. The unfortunate slave Eliza was unhappy after Simon sold her lover George to the faraway province of Ohio. The innocent girl, a victim of the evils of slavery, bid goodbye to her friends and escaped, but faced a rainstorm and a steep mountain. She was forced to hide in the forest to elude Simon, who took out his anger by beating all the other slaves. Simon hunted Eliza down with soldiers and "scientific dogs" (bloodhounds).

When Eliza came to a river during her flight to freedom, the Buddha intervened with a miracle. An angel was sent down with a cold wind to magically freeze the surface of the Ohio river - to make ice and allow Eliza to 'walk on frozen water.' The Buddha also sent stars and blossoms from heaven ("Look like lace upon the sky"), in other words a snowstorm, to hide Eliza with a "veil of lace." Suddenly, wicked Simon Legree appeared, and slid across the river with his bloodhounds and slaves. Buddha called upon the sun to melt the ice and snow, resulting in the drowning of the King and his slaves in the river's deluge. [Note: This was a variation of the Biblical story of the Parting of the Red Sea, and its engulfment of the Pharaoh in pursuit of the Hebrews.] On the other side of the river was a pretty city in Canada with a "lovely small house" - where Uncle Thomas lived. After her miraculous escape, Eliza was reunited with her faithful lover George. On the bank of the river, Eliza's slave friend Topsy appeared to dance for joy that Simon Legree was dead, and was thought to be "too glad" by celebrating the death.

When the play was almost over, narrator Tuptim left her seat and added her own personal assessment. She identified with the story as a slave who was held away from her lover against her will: "... I too am glad for death of king. Of any king who pursue a slave who is unhappy and who tried to escape. And Your Majesty, I wish to say to you: I beg of you!" Her words were interpreted as a personal affront to the King. To silence her, the King snapped his fingers at her to force her to end the performance.

The story concluded with both a happy and sad sacrificial ending: ("Is very sad ending, with sacrifice"). Poor little Eva (a "poor unfortunate child") was taken to be with Buddha: ("Is Buddha's wish that Eva come to him and thank him personally for saving of Eliza and baby. And so she die and go to arms of Buddha").

When the interpretive ballet ended, there was wild applause from the guests, although the King (and the Kralahome) were perturbed by the underlying anti-slavery message threatening their power. The Ambassador called for special attention to be awarded to the "Author," but when the camera panned to the right, Tuptim's chair was empty - with a chaba flower. Tuptim had disappeared as the play ended, to run away from her own enslavement to join her lover Lun Tha.

The King's Misogynistic Ideas About Women and Romance:

After the departure of the British, the King was still seated at the banquet table, eating with chopsticks and criticizing the use of a fork ("Fork is a foolhardy instrument. You pick up food, and it leaks"). Anna entered and complimented him on his dinner conversation as "amusing," and assured the King that "a glowing report" would be sent to Queen Victoria. In appreciation for her help, he offered her one of his rings, and she was speechless. Although everything between them seemed to be "going well," he disagreed with her assessment of Tuptim's play, and was very displeased:

It is immoral for King to drown when pursuing slave who deceive him. Immoral. Immoral! Tuptim shall hear of my displeasure when she is found.

His intention was to find Tuptim and punish her: "It is believed she hides somewhere in palace to escape King's anger." He couldn't understand why she would be unhappy in his luxurious palace. Anna explained how Tuptim was unhappy because she wasn't his one and unique lover: "Oh, but Your Majesty, of what interest to you is one girl like Tuptim? In your household, she is just another woman. As a bowl of rice is just another bowl of rice, no different from any other bowl of rice." He sarcastically and summarily disapproved of her Western cultural assertions: "Now you understand about women. So many English books I read introduce strange idea of love, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Ha!"

Anna challenged the misogynistic King's powerful sense of entitlement to possessively keep multiple women in his harem. She was especially upset about his illogical claim that women were naturally expected to please men and to remain faithful, but men could be rampant and promiscuous philanderers. The King regarded men who remained faithful to one woman as "sick." Anna, on the other hand, believed in the Western practice of single-partner monogamy:

King: A woman is designed for pleasing man. That is all. A man is designed to be pleased by many women.
Anna: Then, how do you explain the fact, Your Majesty, that many men remain faithful to one wife?
King: They are sick.
Anna: But you do expect women to be faithful.
King: Naturally.
Anna: But why, naturally.
King: Because it is natural. It is like old Siamese rhyme: 'A girl must be like a blossom. With honey for just one man. A man must live like honey bee. And gather all he can. To fly from blossom to blossom. A honey bee must be free. But blossom must not ever fly. From bee to bee to bee.'
Anna: Oh, Your Majesty, in my country, we have a far different attitude. We believe that for a man to be truly happy, he must love one woman and one woman only.

She recalled the exciting thrill of her first dance as a young girl when she was asked by a man to join him on the dance floor: "When you're young at your first dance and you're sitting on a small gilt chair with your eyes lowered, terrified that you'll be a wallflower. And suddenly you see two black shoes, a white waistcoat, a face. It speaks."

In an iconic, joyous dance segment, Anna taught the barefooted monarch how to polka, and they happily swirled around the room while singing: "Shall We Dance?" (Lyrics: "Shall we dance? On a bright cloud of music Shall we fly? Shall we dance? Shall we then say good night And mean goodbye? Or perchance When the last little star Has left the sky Shall we still be together With our arms around each other? And shall you be my new romance?...")

Tuptim's Dishonor and Punishment:

They were interrupted by the Kralahome who disrupted their dance with news of the capture of Tuptim, who was being questioned by "secret police." Her lover, who was planning to run away with her, hadn't been caught yet. For her "dishonor," the King prepared for her punishment - a severe whipping: "I shall do what is usually done in such event." Tuptim rushed into the room to beg for the King's and Anna's mercy. As Tuptim was about to be struck with a whip, a concerned Anna yelled out that the King had no heart and was incapable of loving anyone:

Stop that! Do you hear me? Stop it!...She's only a child, running away because she was unhappy. Can't you understand that?...Oh, your Majesty, I beg of you not to take revenge on this girl. If you do, you will be throwing away everything good you have accomplished for yourself and your country. This girl hurt your vanity, that's all. She didn't hurt your heart. You have no heart! You've never loved anyone and you never will.

The King ignored Anna's strong implications and grabbed the whip to personally punish the girl: "I will show you. Give me." Anna was shocked: "I cannot believe you will do this dreadful thing!" The King asserted that he would: 'You don't believe, huh? Maybe you'll believe when you hear her screams as you run from here." Anna decided to stand her ground and remain to watch: ("I am not going to run. I am going to stand here and watch you"). Then, she called him a "barbarian." The King ordered Tuptim held and spread-eagled on the floor ("Down, down, down!"), and then stood over her to assert his power while wielding a whip:

King: Am I king or am I not king? Am I to be cuckold in my own palace, to take orders from English teacher?
Anna: No, no, not orders.
King: Silence! I am king as I was born to be and Siam to be governed in my way! Not English way, not French way, not Chinese way! My way! Barbarian, you say. There is no barbarian worse than a weak king. And I am strong, do you hear? Strong!

But then, as the King was about to strike, he crumpled over, grabbed his chest and raced from the room. Then, a report arrived that the body of Tuptim's lover was found in a river, and Tuptim reacted in shock and was led away in tears. Anna exclaimed to the Kralahome: "I don't understand you, not you or your king. I'll never understand him." The Prime Minister blamed Anna for destroying the King and his reputation:

You! When I warn you of this many months ago, you do not listen. You have destroyed him. He can never be the king that he was before. You have taken all that away from him. You have destroyed king!

Anna returned the King's gift of a ring, cut off all of her responsibilities as a governess, and declared that she would be leaving on the next boat out of Siam with her son Louis.

The King on His Deathbed and His Farewell to Anna:

A few weeks later, Anna's bags were entirely packed and were being transported to a boat for her imminent departure from Siam. Lady Thiang came to Anna's quarters with news that the King was dying: ("I come for one who must see you quickly....he is dying!"). Anna asked about the circumstances and was told that the despairing King had completely isolated himself, shut himself away in disgrace, and starved himself since the banquet:

Who can say what it is that makes a man die? A sad heart that no longer wishes to go on beating? Ever since night of great banquet, he has shut himself away in palace, turning from all who would speak to him, unwilling to sleep or to nourish himself, searching through many books, only to push them aside in despair. Doctors warned him he must change his ways quickly, but he would not listen, Mrs. Anna. He would not listen...Everyone who knew was forbidden to speak of it. And now, doctors have no hope for him.

The heir to the throne, the Prince expressed his fears to Anna of his father's death, and his ascension to the Kingship: "I am frightened because I love my father and also because if he dies, I shall be king. And I do not know how to be." Lady Thiang brought an unfinished letter from the King that he had struggled to write when he learned of her departure. Anna read the letter out-loud in the Prince's presence - it expressed the King's deep gratitude and respect although they often clashed over major differences:

While I am lying here, I think perhaps I die. This heart which you say I have not got is matter of concern. It occurs to me that there shall be nothing wrong that men shall die. For all that matters about man is that he shall have tried his utmost best. In looking back, I discover that you think much on those people who require that you live up to best of self. You have spoken truth to me always and for this I have often lost my temper on you. But now I do not wish to die without saying this gratitude and large respect, et cetera, et cetera. I think it very strange that a woman shall have been most earnest help of all. But, Mrs. Anna, you must remember that you have been a very difficult woman and much more difficult than generality.

Moved by the letter, Anna became tearful and decided to visit the King at his bedside before departing. After Louis asked if they were now friends, she told him:

I suppose so, Louis. We can't hurt each other anymore.... I wish you had known him better. You two could have been such good friends. In many ways he was just as young as you.... I don't think any man has ever been as good a king as he could have been. But this one tried. He tried very hard...I like him very much. Very much indeed.

In the King's emotional deathbed scene, he shared how the people of Siam and the children would miss her very much. He also joked with her that her head was higher than his. He returned the ring that she had given back and insisted that she wear it, before his many children were brought in to surround him. One young Princess recited a memorized message about how Anna would leave them in darkness without her instruction:

Dear friend and teacher, my goodness gracious, do not go away. We are in great need of you. We are like one blind. Do not let us fall down in darkness. Continue good and sincere concern for us and lead us in right road. Your loving pupil, Princess Ying Yaowalak.

When their sailing ship's horn was heard, Anna instructed Louis: "Run down to the boat and ask Captain Orton to take our things off and send them back." The children cheered her decision to stay. Anna had made a promise to remain in Bangkok to provide guidance for the future king.

King Mongkut gestured to Prince Chulalongkorn that he was now the next King, and then asked him what he would do: "Well, suppose you are king. Is there nothing you would do?" The newly-appointed young Prince issued two proclamations to his subjects, including that he no longer would require bowing before the King. During his pronouncements, he became more resolute in his voice, as the King quietly expired nearby:

First, I would proclaim for coming New Year, fireworks. Also boat races....And, Father, I would make second proclamation. Regarding custom of bowing to king in fashion of lowly toad. I do not believe this is good thing. Causing embarrassing fatigue of body, degrading experience for soul, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This is bad thing...

There shall be no bowing like toad. No crouching. No crawling. This does not mean, however, that you do not show respect for king. You will stand with shoulders back and chin high, like this. You will face king with proud expression showing pride in self as well as in king. This is proper way for men to show esteem for one another by looking upon each other's faces with calmness of spirit, eyes meeting eyes in equal gaze, bodies upright, standing as men were meant to stand with dignity and awareness of self. So from this day forward...

In the film's final moment, Anna placed her face next to the King's limp left hand following his death.

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