Anna and the King, 1999


Andy Tennant


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Anna and the King of Siam (the 1946 version with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison) was filmed in Hollywood, with scenes at the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum (seen in Anaconda among many other films). Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicalisation, The King and I, was filmed in 1965 entirely on Hollywood soundstages. All three versions remain banned in Thailand.

Plans to film this retread of the 1946 Anna and the King of Siam on genuine Thai locations were scuppered by protests of historical inaccuracy from the Thai Film Board.

The original Anna Leonowens, on whose memoir the story is based, seemingly exaggerated her importance in, and influence on, the Siamese court to the detriment of King Mongkut.

The implied romantic aspect seems a little dubious, since Anna Leonowens was 28 when she arrived in Siam, while King Mongkut was a deeply religious man of nearly 60. There’s only one brief mention of Anna in the king’s diaries. And, far from being historical, the subplot was based on Anna Leonowens’ own fictional novel Romance of the Harem.

After protracted negotiations and rewrites, Twentieth Century Fox moved the production to Malaysia. Most of the movie was filmed in Ipoh and Perak, and Anna’s traditional village house is in Parit.

King Mongkut’s Grand Palace was recreated at a secret location, but part of the palace was filmed in Rumah Besar Papan, a Mandailing mansion in Papan, about ten miles from Ipoh. Filming also took place at Langkawi Island and Shah Alam, Selangor.

More scenes were filmed at Penang in Malaysia. The’Bangkok’ street scenes filmed on Armenian Street, with very little set dressing to the 19th century Armenian merchant houses. The ‘Royal Court Room’ is the Grand Ballroom of Penang Town Hall on Jalan Padang Kota Lama (Esplanade Road).

‘Bangkok Harbour’ is Swettenham Pier, Penang Harbour. The temple, where Tuptim (Bai Ling) is captured by palace guards is Khoo Kongsi clan temple. Anna and Prince Chulalongkorn find the slave in chains in Syed Alatas Mansion, 128 Armenian Street, the 1860s house of an Arab trader from Sumatra, and one of the best examples of an upper-class Muslim residence from the period, is now the premises of the Penang Heritage Centre.

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