East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Dravot & Peachy


mankingYesterday afternoon we were discussing favorite adventure movies, with some friends online, and John Huston‘s The Man Who Would be King came up.

I saw the movie in the Colosseo cinema, in Via Madama Cristina, in Turin, in 1976, with my mother and my grandmother.
I wonder if today they’d let a not-yet-ten-years-old kid in the cinema to watch a movie that features (according to the current advisory)

Sex and Nudity, Violence and Gore, Profanity, Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking, and Frightening/Intense Scenes.

Quite a package, and without mentioning British imperialism.
But those were different times, I guess1.

The Man That Would be King is a classic adventure movie, based on an equally classic stories by Rudyard Kipling (remember? It’s the Kipling anniversary).

Two cashiered British NCOs, Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, travel to far off Kafiristan with a neat little idea – set themselves up as local warlords, thanks to their superior military experience and a load of modern weapons. They have all set up, and even undersign a contract to properly define their venture.
They ask Rudyard Kipling to act as witness and countersign the papers.

Sean Connery and Michael Caine The Man Who Would Be King

The plan works too well – the two Brits become kings, they discover an ancient archaeological mystery (and lots of gold), but delusions of power and a poor understanding of their subjects’ culture will spell a very bad end for their adventure.

The movie is great.
Michael Caine and Sean Connery are perfect for the role2, the mix of exoticism, adventure, drama and mystery is well balanced.
The climax packs a great punch.

There’s a lot of subtleties that were lost to my ten-years-old self back in ’76, but that just granted a lot of new viewings.
The references to the Alexander the Great myth and legends – and the connection with Aurel Stein’s researches along the Silk Road – are to me a huge bonus.

Sir James Brooke (1803–1868)

Sir James Brooke (1803–1868) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kipling’s story is supposedly inspired by the real life exploits ofcolonial adventurer Sir James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak – a character that’s pretty popular in Italy (or he used to be) as he’s the bad guy in Emilio Salgari‘s series of Sandokan adventure stories.
And the Kipling novella is interesting because it debunks the high-handed dismissal of the author as a Raj propagandist: it’s the story of a colonial failure, after all, showing how bravery and dishonesty can walk hand in hand.

It felt good, yesterday afternoon, remembering that afternoon in a small local cinema, watching this colorful adventure unfold.
I did not know Kipling, I did not Know Huston, probably remembered Connery because of From Russia with Love, seen in the same cinema a while back.
It felt like a piece of a puzzle falling in place.
I guess I’ve been a fan of historical adventures in exotic places all my life.
I grew up like that.



  1. and once again, growing up on a steady diet of adventure movies, stories about jungle lords, colonial adventurers, bold Legionaries and assorted knaves and crooks, did not have the effects predicted by George Orwell for those kids that read Tarzan, so it’s ok. 
  2. but Huston had tried to pull this off with Gable and Bogart, and later with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas… 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Dravot & Peachy

  1. I’d have loved to see this done with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, another pair of actors Huston considered. But after watching Connery and Caine it’s truly difficult to imagine any team that would have been better than those two.


    • Yes, there is a natural ease to Connery’s and Caine’s acting in this movie that really makes it hard to imagine anyone else in those roles.
      They are pretty definitive, as those characters.


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