Watching the film version of The King and I is one of my best childhood memories. I don’t know if it was the first musical I ever watched, but it certainly added to my love for the genre. The song “Getting to Know You” runs through my head when I meet new people. Fortunately for them, I don’t sing it out loud.
Years later, when Jodie Foster took the lead role in the non-musical Anna and the King, I gained new appreciation for the story of the widowed British woman who takes on the role of teacher and governess to the children of the King of Siam.
The two movies share some similarities in theme, and while they are based on a true story, I was never sure how much was fact and how much was fiction.
As part of this series, I decided to read Anna Leonowens’ book Memories of an English Governess at the Siamese Court. I was pleased to discover that the king’s quirks, portrayed so brilliantly by Yul Brynner, were accurate. Who can forget his repetition of “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” or his “Who? Who? Who?” when Anna first arrives on the scene. These are documented in the book.
In fact, Leonowens’ work is incredibly detailed so that if you’ve never traveled to the Orient, you feel as though you are there. As with most things I read, I want to read more about this area of the world. On the downside, I did get a little bogged down in the details about midway through the book and almost didn’t finish it because it wasn’t holding my attention.
What I didn’t find in her account was any trace of love story, which appears in both film versions. I like both movies as stories, independent of the truth, and I’m glad to have read the story straight from the source. It reminds me that historical fiction is both based in history and fictionalized for dramatic effect.
Next week: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.