This is about the film. For the musical, see The Man Who Would Be King (musical).
The Man Who Would Be King is a film based upon Rudyard Kipling's story of the same title.
- Christopher Plummer - Rudyard Kipling
- Saaed Jeffrey - Billy Fish
- Karoom Ben Bouih - Kafu Selim
- Shakira Caine - Roxanne
In 1885, while working as a correspondent at the offices of the Northern Star newspaper, Rudyard Kipling is approached by a ragged, seemingly crazed derelict, who reveals himself to be his old acquaintance Peachy Carnehan. Peachy tells Kipling the story of how he and his comrade-in-arms Daniel "Danny" Dravot traveled to remote Kafiristan (in modern-day Afghanistan, the province is now known as Nuristan), became gods, and ultimately lost everything.
Three years earlier, Dravot and Carnehan had met Kipling under less than auspicious circumstances- Carnehan, a former Colour sergeant of the Queen's Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, pickpocketed Kiplings's pocketwatch but was forced to return it as he was a fellow Freemason. Despite being accomplished gun smugglers, swindlers, fencers of stolen goods, conmen, and blackmailers, both of them are bitter that after fighting to make India part of the Empire, they will have little to return home to except dead-end jobs. Feeling that India is too small for men such as themselves they intend to purchase twenty Martini Henry rifles, travel to Kafiristan, help a local king overcome his enemies, overthrow him, and become rulers themselves before stealing various riches and returning to England in triumph. After signing a contract pledging mutual loyalty and forswearing drink and women until they achieved their grandiose aims, Peachy and Danny set off on an epic overland journey north beyond the Khyber Pass, fighting off bandits, blizzards, and avalanches, into the unknown land of Kafiristan (literally "Land of the Infidels").
They chance upon a Gurkha soldier who goes by the name Billy Fish, the sole survivor of a mapping expedition sent several years earlier. Billy speaks English as well as the local tongue. Acting as translator and interpreter of customs and manners, he smooths the path of Peachy and Danny as they begin their rise, offering their services as military advisors, trainers, and war leaders to the chief of the much-raided village of Er-Heb. Peachy and Danny muster a force to attack the villagers' most-hated enemy, the Bashkai. During the battle, Danny is struck by an arrow, but is unharmed, leading the natives to believe that he is a god. In fact, the arrow was stopped by a bandolier hidden beneath his clothing. As victory follows victory, the defeated are recruited to join the swelling army.
Finally, nobody is left to stand in their way, and they are summoned to the holy city of Sikandergul, where the chief high priest, Kafu Selim, sets up a re-enactment of the arrow incident, to determine whether Danny is a man or a god by seeing whether or not he bleeds. When Danny flinches, the monks grab him and open his shirt, only to be stopped by Danny's Masonic jewel (given to him for luck by Kipling, a fellow Mason). By coincidence, the symbol on the jewel matches one known only to the highest holy man, the symbol of "Sikander" (Alexander the Great), who had conquered the country thousands of years before and promised to return. The holy men are convinced Danny is the son of Sikander. They hail him as king and lead the two men down to storerooms heaped with treasure that belonged to Sikander, which now belongs to Danny.
As the months pass, Peachy is anxious to leave with the treasure before winter closes the passes (and before the natives learn the truth). Danny is against it, however, and develops delusions of grandeur. Firstly Danny 'suggests' that Peachy bow to him like the others, ostensibly to "keep up appearances" in front of the natives and continue the deception. Then, he begins making plans to turn the land into a modern country, to the extent that he envisages eventually meeting Queen Victoria "as an equal." Disgusted, Peachy decides to take as much loot as he can carry on a small mule train and leave alone.
Meanwhile, Danny decides to take a wife after seeing the beautiful Roxanne, despite Peachy's strong warnings. Roxanne, having a superstitious fear that she will burst into flames if she consorts with a god, tries frantically to escape, biting Danny during the wedding ceremony. The bite draws blood, and when everyone sees it, they realize that Danny is human after all. The angry natives pursue Danny and Peachy. When it becomes clear that the battle is lost, Peachy and Danny offer Billy a horse to escape, but Billy refuses and wishes them luck before courageously charging into the mob with a kukri singlehandedly. Nevertheless, Billy is killed amidst the mob and Peachy and Danny are soon captured. Danny apologizes to Peachy for spoiling their plans, and Peachy forgives him. Now resigned to his fate, Danny is forced to walk to the middle of a rope bridge over a deep gorge as the ropes are cut. Peachy is crucified between two pine trees, but he is cut down the next day when he survives the ordeal. Eventually, he makes his way back to India, but his mind has become unhinged by his sufferings. As Peachy finishes his story, he presents Kipling with Danny's head, still wearing its crown, thereby confirming the tale.
- "Dravot's Farewell" - Danny and Peachy