(1956 c 133')
Based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical play, an English widow teaches the children of the king of Siam and manages to advise him as well.
In Bangkok, Siam in 1862 Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr) and her son Louis (Rex Thompson) on board a ship are met by the Kralahome (Martin Benson). Louis and Anna notice that he is half-naked. Louis asks if she ever gets afraid, and she sings “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” The Kralahome comes on board, and they whistle. The captain introduces them. They ask if she is the school-teacher for the King’s children. She is asked if she is married, and she says she is a widow. She declines to say more about her private affairs. The Kralahome tells them to come with him to the palace. She says she will not live in the palace because the King promised her a house of her own. The Kralahome does not want to anger the King. She wants to talk to the King right away so that she can leave on the same boat if necessary. He tells them to come and slaps his hands. She and Louis and say goodbye to the captain.
They walk through the streets of Bangkok and see many people and some elephants. The Kralahome takes them into the palace where they see King Mongkut (Yul Brynner). The Kralahome says the girl Tuptim (Rita Moreno) is being given to the King as a present. The King is pleased. Anna takes Louis, and they approach the King, who asks if she is the school-teacher. He says he has a general plan to bring western culture to Siam. He asks how old she is, and she says she is 150 years old. He asks how many grandchildren she has, but she does not answer. He notices that she is not afraid. He takes her by the hand and leads her into a room and shows her his wives. He introduces his chief wife and says she will help the teacher and learn better English. He says she will teach his children and his wives, but she says she did not agree to teach his wives as well. He also wants her to help him with his foreign correspondence. She says she needs to have her own house first. She imagines problems with iron bars and says etcetera. He asks what that means. The King has his children brought in one at a time. They bow on the floor to him and bow to her while standing. Prince Chulalongkorn (Patrick Adiarte) is the oldest. They all sit on the floor and then bow. Anna is overcome and takes off her bonnet. The King says she has graciously decided to live in the palace, and she says for the time being.
In her room the wives admire her clothes. Anna says she needs some privacy. She wears a wide skirt but shows that her legs are not fat. Tuptim is unhappy and tells Anna that she is in love with a man. Anna says she was very much in love with her husband. She shows them a picture of her Tom, and she sings “Hello, Young Lovers.”
The children sing that there is no place like home. The Prince talks to the King who says that he will learn. The King is not sure how to bring truth and justice to his people, and he sings “A Puzzlement.”
In class Anna asks Lady Thiang (Terry Saunders) to explain an old map. Then Anna shows them a new map. The Prince notices that Siam looks too small, but she shows them that England is even smaller. Anna sings “Getting to Know You,” and she shakes hands with some. A wife dances barefoot with a fan, and Anna dances with her. Then she goes back to teaching and answers questions. She tells them about Norway which has ice and snow. The Prince does not believe her, and the others disbelieve also. They all think Siam is the biggest country. The King comes in and asks why the school is so unscientific. The King knows about snow in Switzerland. He says he is paying the teacher twenty pounds a month sterling. Tuptim has a book Anna gave her called Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Anna says it is about the evils of slavery. The King says President Lincoln is against slavery. Anna admires him, and she says the King is like him. The King asks if they have elephants, and Anna says they have none. The Prince asks her about their slaves. Anna says some things are questions of what is right. She excuses the class. They all go away, and the Kralahome talks with Anna about the Prince. He is concerned he may be in conflict trying to be what he cannot be. The Kralahome says she will end up as the King’s slave like the others.
Anna is in bed and hears knocking on the door. She gets up, and two women tell her to go see the King. She gets dressed and finds the King laying on the floor reading the Bible. He says her Moses was a fool. He says it is foolish to say the world was created in six days. He says English book say different things. She says the Bible tells of the miracle of creation. He asks her to take a letter to Lincoln. He dictates who it is from. He asks if she respects him and tells her that her head must not be higher than the King’s. She says she will try, but she will not grovel on the floor. He stands up and calls her a very difficult woman. He asks her to promise to keep her head as low as his. He kneels down, and she sits on the floor. He rests on an elbow and waits for her to get lower too. He writes about how elephants could be used in America. He tells her to put in the details and says goodnight.
As Anna is going back to her room, Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas) introduces himself to her. He says he came to see Tuptim because he loves her. She warns him that is very dangerous, and she cannot help him. She asks him to wait, and she sees Tuptim go to him. They embrace and walk in the garden and kiss. Lun Tha sings “We Kiss in a Shadow.” He asks when they can be together. She says it cannot be, and she sings with him. She tells him he must go now, or she may be missed. He says he will find a way and will get word to her. He picks a white flower and gives it to her, and it will be a sign.
The King is tired of hearing the song about a home. The Kralahome comes in and warns the King of western treachery. The King says he must think. In class Anna leads the singing. The King comes there and tells her he does not like her to have them sing that song. She says she does not want her son brought up in a harem. He asks her who is king. He does not remember any promises except that she is his servant. She says no. If he does not give her the house he promised, she must return to England immediately. He wants her to stay in the palace. He asks why she wants to leave the children. She does not want to leave them, but she objects to the tyranny of the King. She has no more to say and leaves.
In her room Anna is combing her hair. Lady Thiang knocks and comes in. She asks Anna to go to the King at once. She says he is in distress because of English letters describing him as a barbarian. Lady Thiang tells her not to make it seem like advice. Anna will not go to him without his asking for her. Lady Thiang sings “Something Wonderful.”
Anna goes to the King, who asks if she came to apologize, and he accepts. He says he is busy with important matters. She asks if he wants to discuss anything. He asks why he should talk with a woman. She asks him if there was news today. He says they called him a barbarian, and there is no one to speak otherwise. She says it is a lie. She asks what he will do about it. He asks her to guess. She says she would send the truth to England. She suggests he seek contact with the British. He says some English are coming there, and she says she knows Edward. She suggests he give a banquet in their honor, and they will become witnesses in his favor and tell the Queen that he is not a barbarian. He says that is what he intended to do. She suggests he put his best foot forward. He asks if they should be barefoot. He wants them to wear shoes and dresses. He wants them to know they are European also. She says they could present a play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He says they will use best chopsticks; but she suggests knives and forks, and he adds spoons. He tells her to send invitations, and they will have music and dancing. She asks how long she has to prepare, and he says one week.
The King says they must first ask help from Buddha. He prays before the large statue. He asks for help for Anna even though she is a Christian and unworthy. She objects and stands up, but he makes her kneel again. Then he says he will give her a house. The King prostrates himself, and she does too.
The wives are wearing European dresses, and they tell Anna they are afraid of a spell being cast on them. When they bow, their dresses show her that they are not wearing any undergarments. She shows her dress to the King, who notices her bare shoulders. She tells the wives to keep their backs to the wall. Sir John Hay (Alan Mowbray) and Sir Edward Ramsay (Geoffrey Toone) arrive and meet the King. He takes them to meet his royal wives. A wife says Hay has the head of a goat, and they run out. The King says he has 106 children. Edward is glad to see Anna, and they remember dancing. He dances with her and reminds her that he asked her to marry him. He tells her not to bury her heart in a grave, and he asks her to help him. The King watches them dance and says dancing is after dinner. He asks Anna to help with the seating for dinner. The King offers his arm, and she goes with him. He gives her a list of topics he wants to talk about. They enter the banquet room, bow, and take their seats. The places are set with gold-ware. Anna picks up a spoon and begins. She brings up Moses, and the King says men always arrive at the same conclusion.
Outside Lun Tha is with the rickshaws and takes a package. John Hay proposes a toast to the King of Siam. The King toasts Queen Victoria. The King introduces a play they wrote based on a famous American book. The sing about the house of Uncle Tom in Kentucky ruled by wicked Simon of Legree. Uncle Tom, Little Eva, and happy people are presented. Eliza is unhappy and hates her master. She is in love with George and begins to escape. Simon of Legree beats all the other slaves. He hunts for Eliza with dogs. Eliza runs and comes to a river. Buddha sends an angel who makes the water cold and ice to walk upon. Buddha also sends the miracle of snow. Eliza crosses the river, and Simon of Legree follows her. Buddha calls out the sun, and the ice melts, taking away Simon. Tuptim says she is for the slave who wants to escape to her lover. She says the end of the story is sad. Little Eva goes to Buddha to thank him, and she dies. The audience applauds, and Hay calls for the author. A white flower is on a table.
Lun Tha pulls a rickshaw with Tuptim in it, and they go out the gate. Anna finds the King eating alone, and he tells her to sit. She says his conversation was amusing. Edward told her that the ambassador was impressed. The King says she helped him, and he gives her a ring. She puts it on her index finger. He says he has good news: a white elephant was discovered. She says everything is going well with him. He says it is immoral for the king to drown in the play. Anna says that Tuptim has been unhappy. She says she is like another bowl of rice to him. He says a man likes to have many women, but she asks why so many have only one. He sings “The Song of the King.” She says a man can dance with a woman who is not his wife. She tells the thrill of being asked to dance and sings “Shall We Dance.” She dances around, and he asks her why she stopped. He asks her to show him how to dance with her. They dance together holding hands. He says it is not right. He puts his hand on her back, and they dance. They hear a gong, and the Kralahome comes in and says Tuptim was caught trying to escape. The King has her brought in, and she denies being lovers with that man. Anna says she is a child running away because she was unhappy. Anna says the King never loved anyone, and she cannot believe he will take revenge on her. The King has a whip and takes off his shirt. He looks at Anna and stops and then runs out. The Kralahome is told that the lover was found dead in the river. Anna tells the Kralahome that she does not understand them. The Kralahome says that she has destroyed the King. She says she will leave on the next boat. She gives the ring to him to give back to the King. They both wish she had never come to Siam.
Anna is packed and ready to leave. Louis says they will be late for the boat. Lady Thiang comes in and tells Anna that the King is dying. Anna asks why, and Lady Thiang says he shut himself away and did not eat. She says the doctors have no hope for him. The Prince comes in and tells Anna that he is frightened. Anna says he will learn after he becomes king. Lady Thiang gives her the letter the King began writing to her. The Prince asks to hear it, and Anna reads it. The King wrote that she spoke the truth to him, and he expresses his gratitude. She must admit that she has been a most difficult woman. Anna cries. Louis says he was afraid of the King. She says he tried hard to be a good king. Louis says she likes him, and she admits that she does.
The King is laying on a couch, and praying monks walk out. Anna comes in and bows. He says he sees her now that he is dying. She says she is leaving and has only a few moments. Anna says she will miss the children. The King says he is leaving too but not on a boat. He asks why her head is higher than his. He gives her the ring back, and she puts in on. the children come in. A girl recites a message she memorized for Mrs. Anna, asking her not to go away but lead them on the right road. Anna hugs her, and they hear the boat’s horn. Anna cries and sends Louis to tell the captain to take their things off the boat and send them back. The children cheer, and the King says the school-teacher realized her duty. He raises her pay to 25 pounds. He tells the Prince to rise, and he tells Anna to take notes for the next king. The King asks the Prince what he would do. The Prince says he would proclaim fireworks and boat races on the new year. He would change the fashion of bowing to the king like a lowly toad. The Prince asks if his father is angry at him, but the King says not to ask such questions when he is king. The King blames Anna for that one, and she hopes it is true. The children stand up. The King says there will be no more bowing to the king. The Prince says they will show respect for the king by standing up with shoulders back. The Kralahome sees that the King has died. Anna kisses his hand.
This musical comedy is based on a true story written by Anna about the king Mongkut, who began opening Siam up to western culture and whose son Chulalongkorn brought many reforms to the only country in Southeast Asia that remained independent of European imperialism.