“They think I’m a god?” Sean Connery asks Michael Caine about halfway through “The Man Who Would Be King.” Yep, that’s what the Kafiristan natives think in the 1975 movie, and that’s pretty much what the SRO crowd also thought Sunday evening at a screening of the John Huston-directed pic at Edinburgh’s Festival Theater.
Before the film began, Connery got several prolonged ovations. Looking pretty terrif and in good humor, he recalled appearing on the stage of that theater 60 years ago as an “extra” in a legit show starring Anna Neagle. He praised Edinburgh Film Fest director Hannah McGill for adding the old movie palace-legit house this year as a venue, saying it’s a “star asset” to the festival.
Also on hand was Saeed Jaffrey, who played Billy Fish, the local assistant to the two con-men in the film. Jaffrey noted that Huston originally planned a 1956 version to star Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart as the British soldiers, then quoted a Persian proverb: “It is better it is late, because it is then correct.”
The Bank of Scotland gala coincided with Connery’s 80th birthday. Even in blase Hollywood, I’ve seen sophisticated adults get tongue-tied and star-struck in the actor’s presence. Here in Edinburgh, he’s not just a movie star and Sir Sean, he’s also a champion of Scottish solidarity, a local-boy-makes-really-good success story, and a 20-year benefactor of the fest. At the end of the movie, adapted from Rudyard Kipling, the Kafiristanis are incensed to learn Connery’s character is not a god but a mere mortal. I don’t think Scots are ever going to reach a similar conclusion about Connery. They might be right.