It's been about 14 years since I first saw The King and I (1956), and, in the years since then, I've watched it innumerable times through both the good and the bad. If it hadn't been for The King and I you wouldn't be reading this blog now because without it, I wouldn't have fallen in love with Deborah Kerr, and consequently fallen in love with classic film.
The first time I remember seeing it was when I was 4 or 5. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and my Grandma, Mum, and I were sitting in the living room after dinner not doing much, just happy to be in each others company. At some point, my Mum must have switched on the tv because she told me that The King and I was on. Whilst my Mum went off to do something else, my Grandma and I watched the film; I lying on my stomach in my special "film-watching" place, just in front of the tv and squeezed between the coffee table and the hearth, and Grandma on the settee. It was love at first sight. From then on, my early childhood years were taken up with the challenge of deciding whether to be Anna Leonowens or Maria von Trapp when I grew up. I have vivid memories of dancing around the piece of grass in the front of our row of houses whilst singing, rather loudly, "Shall We Dance" and clutching a tracksuit top (aka, the King of Siam). Then, when I was 6 or 7, I spent what seemed like the entire summer sitting in my parents room replaying the "March of the Siamese Children" over and over on my Dad's cassette player whilst "playing along" with an old xylophone I'd been given. Playing that track (now on a CD ;D) still gives me the same thrill that it used to. I'll never tire of it.
Everyone, even those in my extended family, knew how much I loved (read: obsessed over) The King and I. My Aunty gave me the VHS of it for Christmas, which I still have and will never get rid of because of all the memories attached to it. I'm surprised I didn't wear out the tape, I watched it so many times. Whenever I was allowed to watch a film or asked if I could watch a film (I spent the majority of my first 13 years playing outside at every possible moment, so films weren't a huge part of my life) it was a certainty that I would watch The King and I or The Sound of Music. I was in love with the music, the gorgeous sets, the story, and, most of all, Anna Leonowens. When I was young, Deborah Kerr to me was Anna Leonowens, just like Julie Andrews was Maria von Trapp and Audrey Hepburn, Eliza Doolittle. It was only a few years later that I realised I didn't just love Anna, I loved the actress playing her. That's when I started to discover Deborah's other films and the rest, as they say, is history.
As I said before, if I hadn't loved The King and I so much, I would never have become so engaged in my obsession with classic film. I suppose the root of it all is Deborah. Although I'm sure I would have loved the story just as much had another actress played the role of Anna, it would never have drawn me in to the extent that it did with Deborah in it. Something about her face and her voice was so comforting and extraordinarily beautiful to me. I turned to her whenever I was feeling down or sick and she was there with her red hair and hoop skirts. When I turned 13, I started clinging to my slowly slipping away childhood by watching The King and I. It relieved me of the troubles of adolescence for a couple of hours. However, whilst in my formative years one film was enough to love Deborah in, as I grew older I needed more. I watched as many of her films as I could lay my hands on and it was was whilst working my way through her filmography, I began to realise that Deborah had become somewhat of a muse to me in a way that no one else had ever been. I started to realise that I was growing up (or being "dragged up", kicking and screaming) and I desperately wished that, if I had to grow up, I could grow up to be like her, the seemingly unattainable epitome of beauty, elegance, wit, and compassion. And I did try to be like her when I was 13/14, but I think I've probably turned out almost polar opposite to her (I like to think I'm a modern day Eve Arden, and several people have been good enough to bolster my belief that I'm half as awesome ;D). It doesn't bother me that I didn't turn into a miniature Deborah though. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but, in all honesty, it's a bit creepy.
Despite having seen over almost half of her films by this time, and having many new, exciting, favourites, on the night of October 19th, 2007, the night my Dad told me, rather bluntly, that Deborah Kerr had died, I turned to the old favourite, The King and I. It's the film that I watched three times one night (and bawled my eyes out each time) on a semi-dead laptop I'd been given by my brother. It's the film I've made friends watch and a film that, when talking about Deborah, I always ask if they've seen. It's the first film I remember seeing. It's my film.
The King and I instilled in me a love for musicals that, though it waxes and wanes, I will never be able to get over. Something sets of fireworks inside me whenever I hear the overture to a well-loved show, or even one that I don't know that well. And, in my opinion, there's no musical like a 1950's musical. The majestic, boldly coloured sets, the glorious music, and the marvellous, larger than life actors, all made the 1950s the decade for lush, aesthetically pleasing musicals.
Although The King and I may not be my No.1 favourite of Deborah's films any more, it remains among my top five because apart from it being a wonderful film, I owe it (more correctly, I suppose, I owe Rodgers and Hammerstein) so much. It introduced me to musicals, to Deborah, and, through her, one of my biggest passions, classic film. So, thanks Rodgers and Hammerstein. And thanks a million and one times over, Deborah, for being my refuge throughout my childhood, my teenage years, and, I hope, throughout the rest of my life! ♥