Samantha Eggar in Anna and the King

In 1972, Samantha Eggar co-starred with Yul Brynner in the ill-fated Anna and the King, a TV version of the popular 1956 film The King and I. Of course, the whole thing started with the 1944 book 'Anna and the King of Siam', which was followed by a 1946 movie of the same name (starring Rex Harrison, who Samantha Eggar would later co-star with in Doctor Dolittle).

Anna and the King was supposed to be a big deal. It was supposedly the most expensive half hour show ever produced up until that time. Yul Brynner kept a watchful eye over the production and made sure that original sets, props and costumes from the previous film versions were used. When the show premiered, however, it was met with mixed reaction. It came out at the same time as M*A*S*H (Anna and the King executive produced Gene Reynolds also worked on M*A*S*H) and that show went on massive success, while Anna and the King was not given a second season.

So why did Anna and the King fail? One reason may have been the focus of the show. Someone decided to gear Anna and the King towards a younger audience, adding an ill-advised laugh track and diminishing the role of the King and Anna in favor of a focus on their children. The show could have easily been family friendly and entertaining without having canned laughter and still having the primary concentration be on the relationship between Samantha Eggar and Yul Brynner.

In Anna and the King, Samantha Eggar portrays Anna Owens, a role previously played by Irene Dunne and Deborah Kerr. Of course, Yul Brynner had been playing the King of Siam on stage for years and had appeared alongside Deborah Kerr in the 1956 film The King and I. Supposedly, Yul Brynner handpicked Samantha Eggar to be Anna Owens in the television version. Yul Brynner and Samantha Eggar had already worked together in the 1971 movie The Light at the Edge of the World.

I've only seen the pilot of Anna and the King, but Samantha Eggar does a wonderful job. She puts a lot of energy and zeal into her role and seems to enjoy wearing the variety of period costumes. In the TV production of Anna and the King, the character of Anna Owens is supposed to be from America, rather than Britain like in all previous versions of the story. Samantha Eggar does not attempt to do an American accent. However, one overlooked point is that people in mid-19th century America may not necessarily have had traditional American accents the way we think of them now. Many people in the United States in the 19th century may still have had strong European accents, depending on how long they had been in the country.

Here are some promotional materials for Anna and the King:

Here are a few images of Samantha Eggar in the 1972 pilot for Anna and the King: