review for Anna and the King on AllMovie

Anna and the King (1999)
by Karl Williams review

Nominated for Oscars for its costume design and art direction, this non-musical adaptation of the life of Anna Leonowens is a lavish, solid mix of romance and drama that never quite inflames itself to the level of passion for which it strives. Always accomplished in the role of a stoic, Jodie Foster does a typically proficient job with her role of a stiff-upper-lipped widow whose reserve melts only slightly. Although he'll probably suffer by comparison to the magnetic Yul Brynner, actor Chow Yun-Fat is fine as King Mongkut, playing the royal head of a country with square-shouldered sobriety. But in their scenes together, Foster, Yun-Fat, and director Andy Tennant strive for a kind of standoffish quality meant to imply the characters' mutual mix of antagonism and passion, but which comes off at times like a lack of onscreen chemistry. The story's muddled historical perspective is also something of a burden, but it's doubtful that fans of sweeping romantic melodramas will be much interested in the mishmash that the film makes of real-life events. Regarded as nothing more than a well-mounted movie version of a paperback romance novel, Anna and the King is mostly satisfying within such a realm.