Bronx native Lawrence Bender has been producing Hollywood pictures for decades. A graduate of The University of Maine, Bender’s credits include such films as Reservoir Dogs, An Inconvenient Truth, Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting. However, despite having several critically acclaimed hit films to his name, Lawrence Bender’s best film is Anna and the King.
Anna and the King is based on the Margaret Landon novel Anna and the King of Siam, which is a fictionalized account of the experiences of Anna Leonowens while she lived in Siam (present day Thailand) and taught the children and wives of the country’s King. In addition to the novel, Anna Leonowens’s story has been previously fictinalized in the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I.
Anna and the King stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat as Anna and King Mongkut respectively. The story sees Anna brought to Siam to teach English to the children of King Mongkut. The king has multiple wives and dozens of children. Anna is a widow with only one son. The king is in the process of doing whatever he can to make Siam more modern without sacrificing its traditions. He sees modernization as a way to avoid impending colonization. Over the course of Anna’s time in Siam, she and the king discuss the differences between western and eastern civilization as well as how they each differ in their beliefs about various subjects. Although the two have opposite views on several subjects, including governing and love, they do ultimately develop a respect for one another and their views.
What makes Anna and the King my favorite Lawrence Bender film is the fact that it touches on so many subjects crucial to the human condition, including politics, love and parenting, without being too preachy about it. These subjects are debated in theory in conversations and also seen at various points in the film as actions that are carried out on screen with real world and even life and death consequences. Having its themes not only expressed verbally but also carried out visually is what enables them to resonate so deeply with the audience.
For his part, Lawrence Bender’s steady guidance can be recognized throughout Anna and the King. A veteran producer, Bender knows how to coax great performances from his casts and solid storytelling from his writers and directors. Anna and the King was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design. In addition to Anna and the King’s nominations, other Lawrence Bender films to garner Academy Award recognition include Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, An Inconvenient Truth and Inglourious Basterds.