A British widow named Anna and her young son, Louis, journey to Siam at the request of its king in order to educate his 58 young heirs in the ways of the West. King Mongkut perpetuates a tradition of monarchist rule built upon dynasties of arrogance, intimidation, chauvinism and disrespect. But Anna is a strong-willed woman who bristles at Siamese protocol and human injustice. The inevitable conflict between them softens over time as Anna and the king get to know each other, like each other and learn more about the cultural differences that make them who they are. Their relationship gets more complicated when political unrest and a plot to destroy the royal family threaten not only their friendship, but the future of a nation.
Positive Elements: Anna exhibits compassion to the lowly and downtrodden (she shows kindness to children, purchases a bondservant's freedom and stands up for a woman being caned), while brazenly challenging people in power to behave humanely without regard for politics. King Mongkut, the master of dozens of wives and concubines, finally discovers how a man "could be satisfied with only one woman," validating monogamy as the preferred form of marriage. In fact, true love is esteemed above sexual gratification, not just in the king's relationships, but also between an unwilling concubine and the peasant she truly adores (she sneaks away from the palace and disguises herself just to be near him at the monastery he has joined). Anna and Louis cherish the memory of the boy's father. After experiencing the loss of loved ones, Anna and the king both learn to move past mourning and resume upbeat, productive lives. Anna reflects on the heart of a young prince and suggests that his "warm heart and sympathetic soul" are qualities that will make him a good king. Other biblical virtues promoted in this film include diplomacy, wisdom, self-sacrifice and keeping promises.
Spiritual Content: One of the king's subjects refers to him as "Lord of life." Buddhism appears throughout the film, though it is never promoted as any better or more reliable than any other religion. The king prays to an idol. A Buddhist priest prays for a sick child. Worshippers chant outside of a temple. Sacrifices and offerings are left on a Buddhist altar. Resigned to the fact that his true love can never become his wife, a man joins a monastery to devote his life to Buddha. The king gives a subtle nod to reincarnation and karma when he comments that men learn from their mistakes "through birth and rebirth." And while Eastern religion has—to borrow a sports metaphor—the "home-field advantage" (stadium-like temples, mascot-esqe images of Buddha and many more fans), the visiting team of Christianity is respected as well. When Anna tells Louis that the king's subjects revere him as a god, the boy asks, "Like Jesus?," to which his mother replies, "Hardly." Anna is shown reading her tattered Bible and praying. Christianity is never maligned or given second-class status.
Sexual Content: Families may be uncomfortable with the idea of the king having a harem of nearly 100 wives and concubines (several hundred fewer than Solomon), but there is no immodesty, nudity or explicit sexual content. When a new girl is brought into the palace, it is implied that the king sleeps with her, though we see nothing but her anxiety over giving herself to a man she doesn't love—which helps make a case that the sexual act is a precious gift that should be exclusively reserved for a loving, monogamous relationship.
Violent Content: Siamese officials come across a village that has been decimated by marauders who have hung many of their victims from treetops (the scene is relatively bloodless, but disturbing). In another scene, armed men rush into a house and massacre the people inside (the audience remains outside, hearing the mayhem before seeing a splatter of blood hit the window). Warning: Plot Points Revealed--Military battles include men being shot before the entire regiment is poisoned by a traitor. The turncoat eventually perishes on an exploding bridge. One noble soldier is shot in the head at close range and dumped in the river (harsh, but not gory since it is filmed in the dark). While much is left to the imagination, an intense, gut-wrenching moment finds star-crossed lovers being publicly beheaded. On a more subdued note, Louis and one of the king's sons fight when the arrogant prince insults the memory of Louis' father (both are reprimanded and punished).
Crude or Profane Language: None
Drug and Alcohol Content: It is assumed that wine is served at the royal banquets. King Mongkut likes to smoke cigars, and does so throughout the film, claiming that he began his habit at the age of six. He offers one to Louis just to get a rise out of Anna, an act which later inspires Louis and the prince to swipe a cigar and try it out. Fortunately, it makes them sick and leaves them wondering why anyone would want to smoke cigars in the first place. Anna remembers her late husband's smoking with fondness.
Summary: Similar in many respects to the The King and I (the five-time Oscar-winning musical produced by Fox in 1956), this non-musical retelling of the story trades sweeping production numbers for majestic location shooting, grand Oriental architecture and fine dramatic pacing. It's a 2 1/2-hour epic sure to generate its own Academy Awards buzz. For one thing, Jodi Foster gives Anna a screen presence equal to her courtly Asian counterparts, making her character believably strong (at times abrasively stubborn), yet vulnerable enough that we're concerned for her welfare. Ironically, one scene finds Anna playfully accused of upstaging a diplomatic gala by her very presence. The same can't be said of Foster, who unites the bigger picture without distracting from it—great casting. On a moral level, Anna and the King has some disturbing violence and several elements that warrant discussion, but nothing deeply "offensive." In fact, it has a noble core. Set in 1862, this grand film reflects a modesty and decorum sorely needed a century-and-a-half later. The material also lends itself to a mature discussion of human character, clashing cultures and world religions. Even with a few caveats, Anna and the King exercises restraint and should prove navigable for thoughtful adults and older teens.