Famed movie producer, Lawrence Bender, is behind oscar-nominated cult classics like Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds. Equally impressive is that he is also the producer of “Anna and the King”, my hands-down favorite of his films. Anna and the King is based on the true story of Anna Leonowens and her experiences teaching the children of the Siamese King Mongkut in the 19th century.
Growing up in New Jersey, Lawrence Bender was raised by parents fully devoted to the field of education. His mother was a kindergarten teacher and his father, a college professor. Perhaps this connection influenced Bender’s decision to attach himself to a project like “Anna and the King” that elevates the importance of education and understanding. Whatever Bender’s motivation, moviegoers everywhere have been rewarded with a beautiful film that combines a lush musical score, breathtaking scenery, and gorgeous period costumes to transport us to a far-away world in a time gone by.
While this historical romance takes artistic liberties with the relationship that existed between Leonowens and Mongkut, the conflicts these two historical figures encountered are displayed with accuracy and realism. As ancient traditions of the east collide with western ideas of colonialism, the viewer is invited to explore the themes of prejudice, honor, respect, and courage. Jodie Foster, who portrays Anna Leonowens, delivers a powerful performance as an intelligent woman willing to stand her ground for that which she believes, even in defiance of a king. Chow Yun-Fat, as King Mongkut, counters with an endearing portrayal of a proud leader accustomed to might who learns that strength is sometimes gained from humility.
The surface narrative tells the story of a white, English woman who accepts a Siamese king’s offer of a teaching position for his dozens of children. As this story unfolds, however, it’s clear that the lessons to be learned extend beyond the hearts of the children and the walls of their classroom. In a day and age where differences create tensions that can quickly destroy cultures and countries, “Anna and the King” is a Lawrence Bender film that reminds us that love and acceptance, while requiring time and patience, hold even greater power to change the world.