THE KING AND I
SUBJECTS — Drama/Musicals; World/Thailand; U.S./1860-1865; Dance/Performance;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Education; Trustworthiness; Respect.
AGE: 8+; MPAA Rating — G;
Musical; 1956; 133 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
It is the early 1860s. The King of Siam (King Mongcut) hires an English school teacher to provide a Western education for his children. The teacher and the King develop a deep affection for one another despite the great differences in their cultures. This film is based on the Broadway musical.
The story is essentially a fantasy. While the “King” portrayed in “The King and I” did exist, King Mongcut was a much different (and more interesting) man than the character shown in the musical or in the film. Ancient Siam is the modern country of Thailand.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1957 Academy Awards: Best Actor (Brynner), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Sound Recording, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Costume Design; 1957 Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture; Best Actress Comedy/Musical (Kerr); 1957 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Kerr), Best Director. This film is ranked #11 on the American Film Institute’s List of the 25 Great Movie Musicals.
Featured Actors: Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno, Martin Benson, Terry Saunders, and Rex Thompson.
Director: Walter Lang.
Music: Richard Rogers.
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
The best thing about this film is the music. Many of the songs such as, “Getting to Know You,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” and “Shall We Dance” are suitable for the voices of elementary school children. The production of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” choreographed by Jerome Robbins, is a wonderful introduction to ballet. For younger children, the film can serve as the occasion for discussions about the geography of Southeast Asia and Western imperialism in that region. As to U.S. history, the film provides a basis for talks about slavery in the United States, the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and the role of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin in turning attitudes in the northern United States against slavery. The film can also be used to talk about the history of Siam in the colonial era.
MODERATE. “The King and I” is banned in Thailand because it presents a skewed view of King Mongkut and his accomplishments. King Mongkut and his son, King Chulalongkorn, are revered in Thailand for policies that modernized Siam and kept it from becoming a colony of some European power. King Mongkut was a very civilized and well-educated man and the Thais are justly proud of him. “The King and I” is not about Siam, King Mongkut, or Prince Chulalongkorn. It’s a musical entertainment based on Western perceptions of people in countries considered to be exotic or “uncivilized.” This should be pointed out to children who see this film.
It was not Anna Leonowens who was the driving force behind Siam’s modernization. “Anna” was merely a teacher brought in as a small part of the overall strategy of King Mongkut. Again, this should be pointed out when showing the film.
The final necessary correction to this film is that the presentation of Buddhism is grossly inaccurate. For example, Buddhists do not regard Buddha as a god, but rather as a teacher/therapist who recognized the cause of life’s pain and despair and who then proposed the cure. See Learning Guide to “Little Buddha“.
Read about the real King Mongcut in the Helpful Background section and tell your child about him.
King Mongkut ruled Siam from 1851 to 1868. He was extremely well educated and very interested in Western learning. He could speak English and he was an accomplished astronomer. He first asked wives of missionaries to teach English to the women in his court. However, after several years the women grew tired of a diet of religious texts and attempts to convert them to Christianity. The King then hired an English governess, Anna Leonowens. His son Chulalongkorn reigned from 1868-1910 and continued the modernization of the country begun by his father. One of Chulalongkorn’s reforms, as shown in the film, was to forbid the practice of bowing low before the king.
Except for Siam, every country in Southeast Asia became a colony of one European power or another. Siam’s independence was preserved by the policies of Mongkut and Chulalongkorn. Father and son adjusted to alien pressures by accommodating just enough while promoting internal reforms. This policy was called “bending with the wind.”
King Mongkut was born in 1804. As a boy, he was groomed to become king, but when he was 14 he became a novice Buddhist monk. At the age of 20 he entered the monkhood and took a vow of poverty. When his father died, his half brother, who had been assisting his father in governing the country, was chosen to be king. For many years Mongkut wandered throughout the country living on the small amounts of food that peasants would place into his bowl, eating one meal a day and studying Buddhist scripture. Later, he served as abbot at a quiet riverside temple on the outskirts of Bangkok. As a monk, he learned about life in Siam first-hand, something unusual for a Thai ruler. He was also able to meet foreigners. From them he learned about the outside world, especially about technology and science. He became proficient in English and studied Latin and astronomy. In 1851, on the death of his half brother, he was chosen to be king. During his reign, Mongkut initiated a policy of learning about the West and adapting Siam to a world dominated by Western imperialist powers. He also initiated controversial reforms, such as permitting people to look the King in the face, eye to eye, which had not been permitted under his predecessors.
King Mongkut, among his other accomplishments, was an excellent astronomer. In 1868, he correctly predicted the exact time and location of a solar eclipse that was to show itself on the coast of the Gulf of Siam on August 28th of that year. He invited the governor of Singapore and other dignitaries to watch the eclipse with him. The French government sent a party of scientists. The eclipse occurred just as the King had predicted. Unfortunately, his encampment was in the middle of a malaria ridden swamp. He and his son contracted malaria. It proved fatal to the King.
USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Using In Classroom Here.
2. What are some of the possible routes that Anna’s ship might have taken to get from England to Siam?
3. Why did the King’s Prime Minister dislike Anna?
4. Who was Queen Victoria and why was her good opinion important to King Mongkut?
5. Why did Anna have to give advice to the King by “guessing” what he was thinking?
6. Do you think that Anna caused the King’s death by setting up a conflict within him between the modern/Western ways and the old ways? How did the real King Mongkut die?
7. The King sings:
When I was a boy, world was better spot;
What was so was so, what was not was not;
Now I am a man, world has changed a lot;
Some things nearly so; some things nearly not;
Was the world really better when the King was a boy? What had changed?
8. How does the character of the King use the term “scientific”? Is he using it correctly? What does he mean by it?
9. Can you tell the story of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” the dance shown in the movie? What do you think of dancing that tells a story?
10. Why did the King tell Anna, “Your Moses shall have been a fool”?
11. Why did the King dislike “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”?
12. What biblical story gave Tuptim the idea to add a scene in “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” in which the ice on the river melted just in time to drown Simon of Legree?
13. What changes did the Crown Prince make as his father was dying? Why?
14. Why was it important to the King that he not be regarded as a barbarian by the English?
15. Do you agree with the King that forks are a foolhardy utensil and that chopsticks are much better? If you were used to eating with chopsticks and unused to forks, would you have the same answer?
1. Despite their differences, there were a number of values that most of the adults in the film shared. What were they? Which were the most important? Does every human society share that value?
2. Why didn’t the royal children believe in snow, at least at first?
3. There is a saying that “A coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero dies but one.” How does this relate to Anna’s technique of whistling away her fear?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. What did the King promise Anna she would have? What happened to make the King finally decided to keep his promise?
2. If you have power over another person, does this make it less important or more important for you to keep your promises to that person?
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
3. Does this film teach respect for the customs and culture of Siam?
4. Did Anna do the right thing when she stopped the King from whipping Tuptim or should Anna have minded her own business?
5. Anna called the King a barbarian for wanting to whip Tuptim after she had run away. At that time, in the early 1860s, what were slave owners in the American South doing to their slaves who ran away?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS
CCSS Anchors Here.
BRIDGES TO READING
Bridges to Reading Here.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
Credits and Thanks:
To Patsy Elliot an elementary school music teacher for 39 years from Paris, Texas, for her insights and suggestions for this Learning Guide and for her encouragement to write a Learning Guide for this film.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 10, 2009.