Synopsis Strong-willed, widowed schoolteacher Anna Leonowens arrives in Bangkok from Wales with her young son Louis after being summoned to tutor the many children of King Mongkut. The two are introduced to the intimidating Kralahome, King Mongkut's confidant and Siam's prime minister. The Kralahome explains he has come to escort them to the Royal Palace where they will live - a violation of Anna's contract, which calls for them to live in a separate house outside the walls of the palace. Despite her threat to leave, Anna reluctantly disembarks with Louis and the Kralahome.Once inside the Royal Palace, Anna demands to see King Mongkut and is allowed by the Kralahome to enter the Throne Room. A pleased Mongkut ignores her objections as he introduces her to his numerous wives - who include head wife Lady Thiang and a graceful girl from Burma named Tuptim. King Mongkut then presents the fifteen children she will tutor, aside from the other sixty-seven - among them his eldest son and heir Prince Chulalongkorn. Anna agrees to stay and tutor the King's children, prompting formality to break down. Later that night, Lady Thiang and the other wives assist Anna in unpacking, and when an old photograph of her late husband Tom is discovered, the wives start to deride the unhappy Tuptim because she is in love with another man named Lun Tha, the same man who brought her to Siam.Anna refuses to give up on the house and teaches the children about the virtues of home life, to the irritation of King Mongkut, who contemplates how he craves truth and wonders why the world has become so complicated, with different cultures saying different things. Meanwhile, Anna starts to form a relationship with the children as getting to know people is her favorite thing to teach. The lesson, however, creates disorder when the children refuse to believe in the existence of snow, which they have never seen. The King enters a chaotic schoolroom and, upon noticing Tuptim has a copy of the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, engages in a slightly heated conversation with Anna about slavery - an institution embraced by all his people.That night, Anna is summoned to the King's private chambers where he says that after reading the Bible, he believes that the world was not created in six days, but after many centuries. The King disregards her explanation and orders her to take a letter to President Abraham Lincoln, in which he will send male elephants to America to help with the Civil War, forcing her to sit on the floor due to an ancient custom that nobody's head should be higher than his. She is left to finish the letter herself when she tries to explain that the elephants will not last long if only male elephants are sent. Anna goes outside, only to come across Lun Tha and learn that he has been meeting Tuptim in secret. He asks her to arrange a rendezvous and she refuses out of fear, but eventually relents after remembering her past with her husband. The lovers meet under the cover of darkness and Lun Tha promises he will one day return to Siam and they will escape together.The next day, King Mongkut becomes troubled by reports of spreading British imperialism. He bursts into the schoolroom after hearing Anna's pupils persist in singing "Home Sweet Home". Anna stands her ground, threatening to leave Siam, despite pleas from the children. King Mongkut asserts that Anna is his servant, only to see her repudiate the term and leave the room. Lady Thiang visits Anna later that night and explains that Mongkut is apprehensive over rumors that the British regard him as a barbaric leader, intending to turn Siam into a protectorate. Anna is shocked by the accusations, but is reluctant to give him advice after their argument. Lady Thiang convinces her that the King deserves support, and convinces Anna to go to the King. Anna learns the King is also anxious for reconciliation, and learns that the British are sending an envoy to evaluate the situation in Bangkok. Upon learning that the envoy consists of Ambassador Sir John Hay and her old lover Sir Edward Ramsay, Anna persuades the King to receive them in European style by hosting a banquet with European food and music - after which it is announced that the envoy is arriving in one week. The King promises to give Anna a house of her own in return for her help.On the night of the banquet, Sir Edward reminisces with Anna about old times in an attempt to bring her back to British society. The King however walks in on them dancing and irritably reminds them that dancing is for after dinner. After impressing the guests with his intellectual observations, the King presents Tuptim's version of Uncle Tom's Cabin - which is presented as a traditional Siamese ballet. However, the King and the Kralahome are not impressed, as the play involves the issue of slavery and shows the slaveholding King dead after drowning in the river. By the time Sir John calls for the play's author, Tuptim has left the room to run away with Lun Tha.After the guests have departed, Anna talks with the King and is presented with one of his rings in appreciation of her efforts. He then explains he is not pleased with Tuptim, and reveals she is missing. Anna parries his inquiry by explaining she is unhappy because she is just another woman in his eyes. The King retorts that men are entitled to a plenitude of wives although women must remain faithful. Anna explains the reality of one man loving only one woman and recalls her first dance before teaching the King how to dance the polka, but the touching moment is shattered when the Kralahome bursts into the room with news that Tuptim has been captured. For her dishonor, the King prepares to whip her despite Anna's pleas. She implies that he is a barbarian with no heart and that she will stay to watch the King's actions. The King then crumples, puts his hand over his heart and runs out of the room. The Kralahome blames Anna for ruining him: now he can never be the king he was before. Tuptim meanwhile is led away in tears when she learns that Lun Tha is dead, his body discovered in the river. This causes Anna to return the ring, sever all ties as a governess and leave on the next boat from Siam.On the night of her departure, Anna is prepared to leave Siam with Louis when Lady Thiang says that the King is dying. He refuses to eat or sleep, isolating himself from everyone since the night of the banquet. Lady Thiang gives Anna an unfinished letter from the King that states his deep gratitude and respect for her, despite his harsh differences with her. This prompts her to go to his bedside in tears moments before their ship departs for Britain. The King gives Anna his ring, insisting that she wear it as she has always spoken the truth to him, persuading her and Louis to stay in Bangkok. King Mongkut then passes his title to Prince Chulalongkorn, who then issues a proclamation that brings an end to slavery and states that all subjects will no longer bow down to him. Satisfied that he is leaving his kingdom in capable hands, the King quietly dies.

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With the attention of all present fixed on Chulalongkorn, only Anna and the Kralahome immediately realise and mourn King Mongkut's passing.