Review: Return of a King by William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple’s colourful history of the first British campaign in Afghanistan draws effective parallels with recent events: Ian Thomson in The Guardian

return of a kingKenneth Williams, with his nasal, camp-cockney inflections, made a very good Khasi of Kalabar in Carry On Up the Khyber. The film, shot in 1968 in north Wales, satirised British imperial ambitions in Afghanistan and the Kingdom of Kabul (now Pakistan). Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond and his posh cor blimey cohorts find themselves out of their depth amid tribal bloodletting and jihadi mayhem. Qur’anic ideals of mercy are not shown the 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment as they move up the Khyber.

William Dalrymple’s history of Britain’s ill-fated 1839-42 occupation of Afghanistan has elements of Carry On. British army deserters, spies and drunken archaeologists rub shoulders with “hookah-smoking, pyjama-wearing” East India traders and their “dashing Rajput” warlord associates. For all the Boy’s Own tone, however, Return of the King is a serious work of history.

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