Role in the film
Lieutenant John Wilkins is first seen in the jungle coming to Captain Willaim Boone's aid along with two more British officers after being pushed into the river by a jungle boy named Mowgli. At first, Wilkins attempts to hurt Mowgli with a branch, but after throwing two more soldiers into the river, he threatens to shoot him with his revolver, but hesitates in the process; despite Boone continuously ordering him to do it. Wilkins is close into making a decision until he is scared off by Bagheera and Baloo, thus, causing him to accidentally shoot Mowgli on the right arm and forcing all the soldiers to run, retreat, and cower in fear.
A few moments later, when Mowgli enters the fort of a village to see Katherine "Kitty" Brydon (Boone's "love interest" seen during the fight, Mowgli's childhood friend, and the British army's commanding officer, Colonel Geoffrey Brydon's daughter), Wilkins is the first to catch him entering the fort. Wilkins then alerts all the soldiers and Boone about "the intruder"; thinking he's attempting to kill the Colonel's daughter. Wilkins tries to shoot him but misses. After Mowgli is knocked out by an Indian bandit named Buldeo, Lt. Wilkins and Captain Boone take a golden dagger found on him; thinking he stole it from a rich maharaja and taking a sudden liking to it. Lt. Wilkins and Captain Boone take Mowgli to the dungeon to be taken care of by the sadistic Scottish jailer, Sergeant Harley.
The three deduce that the dagger they found on Mowgli may be the key to more riches, so they torture Mowgli, but the Jungle man fights back, so they place him in the palace dungeon.
Their commanding officer, Colonel Geoffrey Brydon suddenly appears and demands to know what is going on. Boone explains that they have caught the trespasser, but his Colonel strongly disagrees with his brutality. After Brydon tries to talk to him in English and Hindi, Wilkins facetiously congratulates him on his "perfect Hindi" only to be silenced by him and Boone says that the boy has never said a word since he was here, but intends to deal with this situation so Brydon leaves his captive in Boone's charge who allows Harley to torture him again.
Later, Kitty comes down to the dungeon and tells them that they will try to make Mowgli speak and understand the ways of man again, Boone disagrees stating that he is a vicious and uncivilized savage. Kitty shows her disapproval to the way he treated Mowgli, but the rogue tells her that he did it to himself. He watches Kitty hold onto Mowgli's hand as sign of telling him that she is here to help him. Wilkins tells Boone that if he can learn to talk, then he can be forced to give them the information they need.
Later, during an Indian celebration, Wilkins and Boone approach Buldeo and his accomplice Tabaqui who tell them that the dagger comes from a lost mythical city called Hanuman filled with piles of treasure and says that many have found the city and never returned. Boone is convinced that if Mowgli is there to show them the way, the riches would be theirs for the taking.
Another night, at a dinner party, Boone and Wilkins continue to show their dislike of Mowgli by making fun of him and after Brydon announces Boone's engagement to Kitty, Wilkins and the men cruelly push Mowgli and knock him into one of the food tables. After this display of ill treatment and Boone calling Mowgli a "savage" and a "puerile Jungle Boy", Kitty breaks off her engagement to him and decides to return to England.
Boone decides to take matters into his own hands and use force to get to the treasure. He decides to capture Mowgli so they can get to the treasure, but this fails after they are intervened by Baloo, whom Boone and Wilkins wound with gunshots. Boone then sends some Indian Bandits to ambush Kitty and her father.
Boone is waiting with Wilkins and Harley near another area of the jungle and is annoyed that they have captured the Colonel as well. Wilkins stutters when trying to explain his betrayal to the Colonel only to be silenced by Boone. Mowgli comes to rescue them and Boone tells him that unless he takes them to the treasure, Kitty and her father will be killed. Mowgli agrees to take them, but promises that they will not survive.
After Mowgli is captured by the evil British soldiers and the remaining Indian bandits, Boone and everyone else are being watched by Bagheera and the wolf pack as they begin their treasure quest while Bagheera stares at Boone and Wilkins mostly. When Wilkins asks himself why Bagheera is staring at them, Mowgli replies, "Because to him, you are food." A reply is hinted afterwards when Bagheera sticks out his tongue to lick his chops to show his hunger for them. The thought unsettles Wilkins.
That night, as they camp in the middle of the Black Jungle, Harley is irritated at Wilkins complaining about the eerie sounds of wolves and other creatures of jungle, repeatedly orders Mowgli to "shut them up". Mowgli eventually does with a single howl. But the following silence is interrupted by the fierce and well-known growl of Shere Khan, the mighty tiger. Harley and Wilkins, both hailing from Britain and having never heard such sounds before, are frightened.
The next morning, Harley is the first to awaken and catches Mowgli escaping after Bagheera bites through the rope holding Mowgli to a tree. Harley jumps up and gives chase alerting the others of the situation. Wilkins rushes to Harley's aid upon hearing Harley's screams for help and sees that his friend is immersed in quicksand.
Wilkins poorly attempts to rescue Harley, but due to the difficulty of keeping hold of Harley's hand, he lets go. Harley ungratefully shouts "Damn you, Wilkins...!" before he sinks into the quicksand. Traumatized at Harley's death, he begins to weep in guilt. Boone shows no remorse (much to Wilkins' shock) and he and his men continue, ignoring Kitty's pleas not to leave her father.
As they pass through the jungle, Wilkins complains along the way and becomes more stressed than ever, and even tells Tabaqui to be careful when hacking through shrubbery with his large knife. This irritates Tabaqui who gives Wilkins a shove. Later, they see a sign on the ground left by Mowgli that the Colonel is safe.
Later, Wilkins and the others witness Tabaqui struggling on some clifftops with Mowgli. An attempt to crush the jungle boy with a boulder results in the man falling to his death before their eyes. Kitty mocks Boone's earlier lack of remorse and suggests they continue.
Boone spots Mowgli and orders his remaining men to shoot him, but Mowgli leaps off the cliff and lands safely in the water.
They finally reach Monkey City and suddenly hear Shere Khan. Wilkins gets separated from the group. When frightened by Shere Khan's growls, he accidentally shoots Buldeo on the leg and ends up being chased and mauled to death by the vengeful tiger. Wilkins' blood-curdling scream reaches Boone's ears and Boone calls to him, but there is no answer.
- Despite having betrayed Colonel Brydon and his daughter, when Wilkins stutters while explaining his reason for betrayal and shows slight discomfort when seeing the Colonel beaten up by Buldeo, it is possible to conclude that Wilkins may still have had a small spark of respect for the Colonel, had nothing against him or his daughter, and that the only reason why he betrayed them was just because of his hatred of Mowgli and his desire for the treasure only.
- Although Boone showed no concern for Harley or Buldeo, he only displayed brief emotional reactions in regards to Wilkins and Tabaqui being killed. Although his concern for Wilkins was momentary, it is likely that he still considered Wilkins his friend despite his pathological and undying hunger for treasure and power. As for Tabaqui; his death was the only one that Boone witnessed with his own eyes, hence his horrified reaction and since Tabaqui was their guide, and without him they had slim chances of finding their way back to the village, this explains why Boone was bitter about it.