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578 Topics: Movies – The King and I; The Women Airforce Service Pilots; nation versus sovereign versus kingdom; to obstruct versus to hinder; fire and brimstone

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Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 578.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 578. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an eight- to ten-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes. You can also take a look at our ESL Podcast Store with additional courses in business, daily, and cultural English.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about one of the most loved movies of the mid-twentieth century, the 1956 movie The King and I. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

In 1956, one of the most popular movie musicals of all time was released, or made available to see, called The King and I. A “musical” (musical) is a play, or in this case a movie, that usually includes singing and dancing as well as acting. Some musicals have just singing, but most of them have a mix of singing and speaking, and typically have dancing as well. The movie musical The King and I starred a young actor by the name of Yul Brynner and a beautiful actress by the name of Deborah Kerr.

It was called The King and I because it told the story, some say partly fictional story, of a young English woman who moves to Bangkok with her son back in the middle of the nineteenth century, in 1862. Bangkok is located in the country of Thailand. This young woman was hired by what was then the king of Siam. Siam (Siam) is what the country of Thailand used to be called, at least in English.

This young English woman, named Anna, goes to Bangkok to be the governess for the king’s children and to teach them something of the culture of the Western world. A “governess” (governess) is usually a woman employed or hired by a family to teach children in a private home. There seem to be a lot of musicals about governesses. The Sound of Music is also about a governess who goes to take care of children in a very wealthy family’s home, a rich family’s home. Well, this family in The King and I is of course very rich because it is the king’s family.

In the movie, when Anna arrives, she finds that the king is a difficult man to deal with, a difficult man to talk to, because he is arrogant and stubborn. “To deal with” means to work with in this case, or to get along with, especially in a professional environment. “To be arrogant” (arrogant) means to have a very high opinion of your own importance, of your own abilities – perhaps to think that you are better than everyone else.

“To be stubborn” (stubborn) means to be unwilling to change your attitude or behavior, especially when there are good reasons for you to change your attitude or behavior. Some people don’t like to change their mind, to change their opinion, and so they stick with or continue doing things the way they’ve always done even when they have good reason to change them. I’m never like this, of course.

As the movie continues, however, Anna learns that the situation with the king is more complicated – that he’s more complicated than she originally thought. He can be kind and loving and understanding, just like me. When I say he’s “complicated,” I mean he is not an easy person to understand when you first meet him. He has many different sides to him.

Both the king and Anna find out that even though they are different, they can at least respect each other and even like each other. “To respect” (respect) someone means to have a feeling of admiration for someone even though you perhaps don’t agree with the person. “To respect” someone is to think well of their abilities or their intentions, even when at times you may not agree with them. Of course, you can agree with someone and respect a person.

The movie was an immediate success with audiences – with “moviegoers,” we might call them. This was not completely surprising since before the movie was released, there was a very successful Broadway musical, a play in New York, that was very popular. In fact, the actor in The King and I, Yul Brynner, also played the king in the Broadway or play version of The King and I, and his performance was praised by people who went to see it.

His performance in the movie really became the role that everyone remembers Yul Brynner by. A “role” (role) is the character that an actor plays in a movie or a TV show or a play. Most people, when they think of Yul Brynner – at least people of my age who’ve seen the movie – will think of The King and I. That’s probably the only movie we remember him from even though he was in many other movies.

The movie was also popular because like a lot of musicals, it included songs that went on to become popular with people even if they had not gone to see the movie. “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” are two of the songs that are most well known. The King and I was written – at least, the songs and the music were written – by two of the most famous composers of that generation, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Rodgers and Hammerstein also was the team that wrote the music for The Sound of Music, Carousel, and Oklahoma, among others.

There is a tradition in American high schools of, during usually the spring semester, a group performing a musical or a play. In my high school, there was always a musical performed in April and May of each year, where a group of students would get together and perform typically one of these famous musicals. We did The King and I, I think when I was in my first year of high school, so I remember some of the music from then.

Getting to know you

getting to know all about you

Well, that’s all I remember. I wasn’t in the play, myself – the musical, I should say. Well, I was. I was on the lighting crew. The “lighting crew” (crew) are the group of people in my school (they were all boys) who were responsible for putting up the lights for the theater – for the auditorium, the place where we had the play – and turning them on and off during the play at the appropriate times. That was my dramatic contribution. I was on the lighting crew. But I got to see all the plays many times and so I got to know the music, as did many Americans who saw this movie.

The movie was repeated on television many times during the 1960s and ’70s when I was growing up. At least once a year, you could probably see The King and I on a television station, or you could of course rent the movie when video cassettes were made popular in the 1970s.

Back to our story, then. The song “Shall We Dance,” which was part of the musical, was included in the movie during, of course, a dance between Anna and the king. It was during this dance where Anna and the king realized that perhaps they have more in common than what they thought before. “To have in common” means to share, whether it’s certain experiences or certain ideas.

The King and I was based on, or was taken from, a book written in 1944 by an American author by the name of Margaret Landon. Landon’s story itself is sort of interesting. She was born in Wisconsin, not too far from where I was born and raised. Her family moved to a small town in Illinois and she eventually went to college at a Christian college, a well-known Christian college still called Wheaton College. This was unusual, of course – for a woman to get a university degree.

She became a teacher and eventually married the man whom she met at the college. Well, one of the men she met at the college. She didn’t marry all the men she met, of course. That would take a lot of time. She and her husband actually traveled to Thailand, or what was then known as Siam, as missionaries, as Christian missionaries bringing the message of the Christian faith to people in Siam, and that’s where she learned the story of a real woman by the name of Anna Harriette Leonowens.

Leonowens herself had written what she called an “autobiography” – the story of her life – in 1870. It was called The English Governess at the Siamese Court. A “court” (court) here refers not to a place where there is a judge and a jury and lawyers, but rather to where a monarch is, where a king and queen lives and rules. This young American missionary, then, had discovered this book written by an English woman who had travelled to Siam in the middle of the nineteenth century and had apparently been a governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam.

So, there was a real woman, a real Anna, who was in fact a governess to the children of the king. However, it turned out that a lot of her story might not have been true. There are people who say that she exaggerated some of the facts that she reported in this autobiography. “To exaggerate” (exaggerate) means basically to lie about something, to make it sound bigger or greater or more important than it really was.

So Margaret Landon – the American – took this story, this autobiography, from Anna Leonowens and made it into her own novel, but because the original source, the original autobiography, was full of things that apparently weren’t true, the eventual story of course didn’t really reflect what the reality was apparently back in the nineteenth century. Audiences didn’t much care about whether it was true or not. It was a beautiful story and a wonderful musical. They found it entertaining, and that really was all that was important to them.

However, the government of Thailand wasn’t so happy with the movie. In fact, it was banned from being shown in Thailand because it was inaccurate. “To ban” (ban) means that you legally don’t allow something. In the United States, smoking is banned in many restaurants. In California, it’s banned in all public restaurants. That means it’s not allowed. You can’t do it. Well, this movie was banned because the Thai government didn’t like the way the king was portrayed, how he was made to seem.

In truth, the king that appears in the movie, King Mongkut, was quite successful. In fact, he was able to prevent Thailand from being colonized as many other nations were during this period of the nineteenth century. “To colonize” (colonize) means to send a group of people from your country to another country and basically take over that country, or take over the control of that area. Thailand prevented that, something that other countries in the region were not able to do, so the king was actually quite successful in many ways.

The King and I is still a well-known story. In fact, there was another movie made about this story in the late 1990s which was also controversial. It also caused problems because it was also based on some of the same inaccuracies or false things that were first written about in the autobiography of Anna. The movie, however, is certainly considered a “classic” – that is, one of the best of its kind – and if you have a chance to see it, remembering of course it’s just a story, a fictional account, I think you will enjoy it.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Van-Cuong (Van-Cuong) in Vietnam. The question is about three different terms, “nation,” “sovereign state,” and “kingdom.” Let’s start with “nation” (nation). A “nation” can refer to the land that belongs to a single country. The area of land that is owned by a country or is part of, I guess we should say, a country. So, the nation of the United States consists of the 50 states plus various American territories and what we call “commonwealths.”

“Nation” can also refer to the people who live in a certain country or a combination of those two – the people and the land that belongs to a given country or is part of a given country. So, we may talk about the United Nations, an organization that has representatives from all the different individual nations or countries throughout the world. So in that sense, “nation” and “country” mean the same thing.

The terms “sovereign (sovereign) state (state)” refers to a country or nation that has the independent authority to govern itself. It’s not under the authority of any other country. So, in that case again it really means the same as the way we would normally use “nation” or “country,” but it refers more specifically to the government of that country or nation.

Now, this gets confusing because in some places, such as in the United Kingdom, we may talk about the country of Scotland or the country of Wales or the country of England even though they are all part of one nation. There is one sovereign state which is run by, technically in the United Kingdom, the monarch, the queen currently, but in fact by parliament led by a prime minister, a leader. However, I’m not an expert on the British legal system and won’t try to explain their particular way of doing things. It does lead us, however, to our third word, which is “kingdom” (kingdom).

A “kingdom” is a form of government where you have a king and or a queen. You have what’s called a “monarch” (monarch). ”Monarchies” are usually, but not always, “hereditary” – that is, the son or daughter of the king and queen becomes the next king or queen. Queen Elizabeth II, the daughter of King George, I believe he was, and he was the brother of King Edward, who left or abdicated. They were both sons of another king, and he was the son of, and so on, and so on, and so forth.

Sometimes when there isn’t a son or daughter, it becomes a cousin or some other, what we would call, “blood relatives” – someone else who is related to the king and/or queen. There are, then, kingdoms which are sovereign states, which is to say they are their own nation or country. Most sovereign states, most nations, most countries are not kingdoms. They are more like the United States, where you have governments that are either selected or elected by the people or by some other powerful force in that country such as the military.

The next question comes from Chris (Chris) in China. Chris wants to know the difference between two verbs, “to obstruct” (obstruct) and “to hinder” (hinder). These words are related. “To obstruct” means to block something so that it cannot easily move. You might have a large tree that falls onto the road, onto the street. We might say, then, the tree is “obstructing traffic” – it’s preventing cars from driving down the street because it’s in the way. You’ll more often hear this verb “obstruct” together with the word “view” (view) used often as an adjective.

An “obstructed view” is when you can’t see something you want to see because there is something in your way. If you go, for example, to a theater to see a play, some of the seats may be partially behind part of a wall or a large “pillar” (pillar), which is a large column that helps support the ceiling of the building. Your view is obstructed. It’s blocked. You can’t see the stage where the actors are because there’s something in front of you. The “pillar” in this case, or a wall, might be “obstructing your view.” It’s blocking it. It’s preventing you from seeing what you want to see.

You also hear this word “obstruct” in the phrase “obstructing justice” (justice). “Obstructing justice” is a crime that involves preventing the police or the government from doing their job of finding out who is guilty of a certain crime. If you do things that prevent them from finding the truth, even though you yourself didn’t do the crime or commit the crime, you could be arrested and put in prison for “obstructing justice” – for preventing, rather, the government from doing its job.

“To hinder” can mean something similar, although usually “to hinder” means to slow down or to make something more difficult, perhaps not stopping or preventing it completely, however. “You’re hindering my path.” You’re in my way. I can’t move easily around you.

“To hinder” is usually, as with obstruct, something that is done intentionally. The person wants to make things more difficult for you – wants to slow things down, perhaps. We often use “hinder” when we’re talking about either a plan to do something or a specific action you want to do. If you have a plan and someone doesn’t like your plan, that person may try “to hinder the plan,” perhaps even to stop it from being carried out.

Our final question is from Mike (Mike) in Hong Kong. Mike wants to know the meaning of the expression “fire and brimstone,” as in “a fire and brimstone speech” or sermon or lecture. “Fire and brimstone” (brimstone) is an expression that refers to someone talking about how God is angry and that we all need to change our behavior because if we don’t, God will punish us. He will do something that will harm us.

The word “brimstone” is an old word for “sulfur” (sulfur), which is a yellow chemical that has a very strong, unpleasant smell. The idea is, I suppose, that God would punish us by sending down fire and brimstone onto the earth to punish us. It’s an old term that refers to certain kinds of usually religious lectures or to talks, what we would call “sermons” (sermons), which are given in a church.

“Fire and brimstone sermons” were ones that were supposed to make you fear God, to be afraid of the bad things that you have done, and to change your life so that you would be better, that you would do good things. The term isn’t normally applied to a lecture – that’s Mike’s question – though perhaps, I suppose you could use it in that context. Normally, however, it’s used to describe a sermon – a religious talk or a religious speech, if you will, in a church.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
musical – a play or movie that includes singing and dancing

* The opening scene of the musical The Sound of Music shows the main character standing on a mountain top singing about natural beauty around her.

governess – a woman employed to teach children in a private home, especially a wealthy one

* The governess teaches the children reading, writing, and math, in addition to how to behave properly in social situations.

arrogant – with an opinion of one’s own importance or abilities that is too high and unrealistic

* “This project would have failed without my help,” said the arrogant man, who had actually given very little help to the project.

stubborn – unwilling to change one’s attitude or behavior especially in spite of good reasons to do so

* Laura has always been stubborn and won’t ever admit she’s wrong.

to respect – to have a feeling of deep admiration for someone because of that person’s abilities, qualities, or achievements

* If your students don’t respect you, it’s more difficult for them to learn from you.

role – an actor’s part in a play, movie, or television show; the character an actor plays in a play, movie, or television show

* Who will play the lead role in your new film?

autobiography – the account or story one writes about one’s own life

* In his autobiography, the former president looked back at some of the most difficult decisions he had had to make.

court – the royal home and the officials, relatives, and friends of the royal family who live

* Visitors to court must observe strict procedures and never offend the queen.

to exaggerate – to represent something as larger, greater, better, or worse than it actually was

* Don’t exaggerate! You fell down a small hill, not a mountain.

to ban – to not allow something to exist or occur officially or legally

* Smoking is banned in restaurants and public office buildings in this state.

to colonize – to send a group of people from one country to another country to live there and to establish political control over that country

* Which country has a plan to colonize Mars and make it a new home for its citizens?

classic – something that has been judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and is an outstanding example of its kind

* We saw a lot of classic cars from the early 1900s at the car show.

nation – a large area of land that is controlled by a government; the people who live in a nation

* Seven nations signed this agreement to encourage more trade.

sovereign – having independent authority and the right to govern itself; a king or queen

* Native American reservations are considered sovereign and have their own governments and laws.

kingdom – a country with a king or queen as ruler; the spiritual world where God is the ruler

* The queen died, so our kingdom will soon have a new queen.

to obstruct – to block something so that things cannot move through it easily; to slow or block the movement, progress, or action of something or someone; to be in front of something so that one cannot see behind it

* A big truck ran out of gas and is obstructing traffic in the tunnel.

to hinder – to make something, such as a plan or action, slow or difficult

* We need to be aware that other companies might try to hinder our progress by hiring away our top scientists.

fire and brimstone – signs of God’s displeasure; used as a negative term to describe a style of Christian preaching that uses powerful descriptions of judgment and hell to encourage feelings of regret for doing things against God’s teachings

* The preacher is known for his emotional and energetic fire and brimstone sermons.

What Insiders Know
Yul Brynner

Yul Brynner was a famous actor. He was born in Russia in 1920, and he lived in China and France before “settling” (beginning to live somewhere for a long period of time) in the United States in 1940. As a teenager, Yul played guitar in “nightclubs” (places where people go to drink, dance, and be entertained in the evening) in France, and he also worked in a “circus troupe” (a group of people who entertain others by doing amazing acts, traveling to many different places) as a “trapeze artist” (an entertainer who hangs from ropes and flies high in the air as part of a circus).

Yul worked as a radio “announcer” (someone who shares news and other information over the radio) while studying acting. “Initially” (at first), he found few acting “gigs” (jobs; opportunities to perform for an audience as an actor or musician). He “got his big break” (had an acting job that brought him success and fame) “on stage” (in a theater; not in a film) as King Mongut in The King and I. In 1956, he “turned to” (started to become involved in) film. In addition to The King and I, he is remembered for his role in the film The Ten Commandments.

Yul’s “personal trademark” (something that one is known for; an important piece of one’s identity) was that he always “shaved his head” (cut all the hair on his head extremely short so that only the skin is seen). He originally did it for a “role” (a character played by an actor), but then continued because it made him “unique” (different from everyone else).

Yul died of lung cancer in 1985, but before he died, he produced a “public service announcement” (a message intended to educate the public) about the dangers of smoking.