The Man Who Would Be King is a Technicolor adventure film, which premiered in 1975. The film is based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 short story of the same name and was adapted and directed by John Huston. The film centers on two rogue ex-soldiers, who were former British Army non-commissioned officers and set out from 19th century British India in search of adventure. However, they end up in distant Kafiristan, where one of them is mistaken for a god and made their king. The film begins in 1885 India, where journalist Rudyard Kipling is approached by a ragged man who turns out to be an old acquaintance.
The film stars Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Saeed Jaffrey and Christopher Plummer as Kipling. Connery, Caine and Jaffrey play Daniel Dravot, Peachy Carnehan and Billy Fish respectively. In the film’s opening scene, the tattered man approaching Kipling is none other than Peachy Carnehan.
The story of The Man Who Would Be King revolves around Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan. After Peachy Carnehan approaches Kipling in the first scene, Carnehan tells him how he and his comrade-in-arms Daniel Dravot, both former British Army sergeants turned adventurers, traveled far beyond India to in the remote country of Kafiristan. Dravot and Carnehan had met Kipling in less than auspicious circumstances three years ago. Carnehan felt he had to return Kipling’s pocket watch, which he had stolen, after finding a Masonic tag on the chain and realizing he had stolen it from a fellow Freemason. Later, Kipling foiled his and Dravot’s plan to blackmail a local rajah by bringing in the British District Commissioner.
Carnehan then obliquely blackmails the commissioner to avoid expulsion. The two show up at Kipling’s office with a bold plan, as they don’t have much to look forward to in the UK except for dreary, low-paying jobs, and in part thanks to their strenuous efforts in as soldiers, they are frustrated by the lack of opportunities for lucrative criminal mischief, in an increasingly civilized and regulated India. Leaving India behind, they headed for Kafiristan, a country almost unknown to Europeans since its conquest by Alexander the Great, with twenty rifles and ammunition. After initially trying to dissuade them, Kipling gives Dravot his Masonic tag as a sign of brotherhood. The two then embarked on an epic overland journey north past the Khyber Pass.
Before leaving, they sign a contract, pledging mutual loyalty and renouncing women and drink. As they head to the unknown land of Kafiristan, they travel through Afghanistan, battling bandits, blizzards and avalanches over the next few weeks. They meet the sole survivor of a British expedition from years past, a Gurkha soldier, Billy Fish. During a battle, an arrow pierces Dravot’s jacket, but he is unharmed. Although the arrowhead was stopped by his leather shoulder strap, both sides mistake him for a god. During a demonstration, they see his Masonic tag, which contains the sacred symbol left Sikander, their name for Alexander the Great, who had promised to send a son to rule over them.
They then show him the royal treasury, which is filled with unimaginable amounts of gold and jewels that are now all his, as they hail him as king as well as God. Even though Carnehan wishes to plunder them and leave, Dravot begins to enjoy the adulation of the townspeople, settling their disputes and enacting laws, and even dreams of visiting Queen Victoria as an equal. He also says he will marry to leave the people an heir, and rescinds their pact to avoid women, when he is struck by the beauty of a young girl named Roxane, after Alexander’s wife. After an incident where she bites her cheek, people see him bleeding, they then realize he’s only human and try to catch the British imposters.
Dravot then vigorously sings the hymn “The Son of God Goes to War” when he is captured and forced to walk across a rope bridge after being outnumbered in the ensuing battle. He dies when the ropes are cut and he falls thousands of feet. Carnehan is freed when he is found alive after being crucified between two pines. After finishing his story, he leaves a package on Kipling’s desk, in which he finds Dravot’s skull, still wearing a golden crown.
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The Man Who Would Be King Filming Locations
The Man Who Would Be King was filmed at Pinewood Studios and locations in France and Morocco. While on location, Saeed Jaffrey, who played Gurkha guide Billy Fish, was subjected to racist treatment by an assistant director, which Caine strongly opposed. Some scenes were shot in Ait Ben Haddou in Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco. Ait Ben Haddou is located along the old caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in Morocco and is an ighrem, a fortified village. Although there are still four families living in the old village, most of the citizens attracted by the tourist trade live in more modern dwellings in a village across the river. Since 1987, Ait Ben Haddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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