The Last King of Scotland, based on Giles Foden’s 1998 novel of the same name, peers into the world of Idi Amin and the troubles he brought Uganda in the 1970’s. The movie explores the turmoil and troubles surrounding the beginning of one of the country’s darkest periods, which started with Amin’s coup in 1971 and ended with him being overthrown in 1979. Amin’s rule resulted in thousands of deaths, with estimates between 80,000 and 500,000. Based on actual events, the movie takes us into Amin’s inner circle through the eyes of an outsider who is initially charmed by the charismatic leader until he starts realizing Amin’s true nature.
Upon graduating from medical school, Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, played by James McAvoy, decides to leave Scotland for Uganda to escape his overbearing father. Nicholas arrives in the African nation during the military coup that puts General Idi Amin, played by Forest Whitaker, into power. Amin is a magnetic and popular leader. Amin is injured in an automobile accident, and with Nicholas being the nearest doctor he’s brought to attend to Amin. Amin is taken with the young Scotsman, and offers him a position as personal physician to the President. At first, his experience living at Amin’s residence is positive and he’s enjoying himself immensely, but as the ruler’s paranoia begins to assert itself, he discovers that no one is safe. His own status is tenuous, especially since he’s having an affair with Amin’s third wife, played by Kerry Washington. As time progresses people begin disappearing en masse and Nicholas has had enough, he needs to get out.
Although Amin is not the lead character, he is the focal point of the narrative. It’s about the dissolution of his character and its impact on the rest of the characters throughout the movie. Nicholas is presented as man with a conscience, a perfect foil to Amin’s amoral personality but at the same time he has no problem with adultery. The characters actions are more motivated by the circumstances they find themselves in than by their personality. Amin and Nicholas are both trapped men, one in a prison of his own fashioning, the other in a quagmire he didn’t even realize he was in until he was waist deep.
The Last King of Scotland is a film that gets better and better during its run time. The acting was absolutely top notch and director Kevin MacDonald did a great job portraying Uganda and its troubles. It’s no wonder Forest Whitaker won an Oscar, it was well deserved.