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Man Who Would Be King, The (1975)

Veteran director John Huston had wanted to film this Rudyard Kipling story since the 1940s, initially planning it as a Clark Gable/Humphrey Bogart vehicle.

30 years on and into the breach step the two greatest British movie stars of their generation – Sean Connery and Michael Caine – as the over-ambitious soldiers attempting to conquer their own slice of the Raj by conning the locals into believing Connery is a god in a remote region of Afghanistan.

The film begins with author Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) working in his office, his privacy is broken by the arrival of a dishevelled old acquaintance and fellow Freemason, Peachy Carnahan (Michael Caine).

Peachy begins to recount the incredible adventures of himself and fellow scoundrel Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery). The film then flashes back to an earlier meeting between Kipling, Peachy and Daniel. Kipling is asked to witness a document testifying to what they have told him of their plans.

The two rogue adventurers were British soldiers stationed in India but were expelled from the country due to their criminal activities. Together they decide to travel to the remote city of Kafiristan in the hills of eastern Afghanistan to set themselves up as rulers.

The two endure all the hardships of mountain trekking and severe weather before reaching the glorious valley and its remote city. They are greeted by Billy Fish (Saeed Jaffrey), a stranded Gurkha soldier who aids the two in their venture to relieve the local priests of their treasure.

Daniel joins some renegades in an attack on the nearby city of Sikandergul, and during the ensuing fighting is struck in the chest by an arrow. The natives are amazed to see Daniel pull the arrow from his chest without injury; they believe him to be a god who cannot be killed by the weapons of mere humans.

Rather than immortality, the arrow had, in reality, hit his bandolier and failed to penetrate his flesh. The Afghan natives though believe he is a god – the incarnation of Alexander the Great – and Daniel attempts to make then give up their riches to him.

Daniel begins to fall into self-deluding arrogance and starts to believe his own lies rather than leaving with the treasure they’ve collected.

manwhowouldbeking_003The outcome for Daniel and Peachy is disastrous, Peachy knows eventually that they will be exposed as frauds, and plans to leave before a calamity strikes. Daniel decides to take himself a wife, Roxanne (Shakira Caine, Michael’s real-life spouse), and urges Peachy to remain for the marriage.

Roxanne is terrified at the prospect of marrying a god, and during the wedding bites Daniels face, thereby drawing blood. The natives know that gods have no blood, and march on the men that have fooled them into believing they were in the presence of a supreme being.

Daniel and Peachy flee the city, but Daniel is killed when he falls to his death from a rope bridge into a deep gorge, Peachy meanwhile is caught, crucified, and left for dead.

The array of talent doesn’t disappoint and the supporting cast raise their game accordingly, especially Saeed Jaffrey as the stranded Ghurkha the duo encounter in the mountains, and a 103-year-old Karroom Ben Bouih in his first and only screen appearance as the high priest Kafu Salim.

Sean Connery died peacefully in his sleep at his home in the Bahamas on 31 October 2020 having been unwell for some time. He was 90.

Peachy Carnahan
Michael Caine
Daniel Dravot
Sean Connery
Rudyard Kipling

Christopher Plummer
Billy Fish

Saeed Jaffrey
Ootah

Doghmi Larbi
District Commissioner

Jack May
Kafu Salim
Karroom Ben Bouih

Director
John Huston