Uganda: The Last King of Scotland

16 October 2006

Washington, DC — The Last King of Scotland

Rated R for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language.

Runtime: 121 min

This film portrays the story of a Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, who is employed by one of the most notorious dictators in history, Idi Amin of Uganda. The film's focus is Garrigan, played by Scottish actor James McAvoy, and his relationship with Idi Amin, who is played by African American actor Forest Whitaker. The film follows Garrigan as he is first mystified by the larger than life dictator and later terrified of Idi Amin and his power as he discovers the true horrors of Amin's regime.

The film begins with the overthrow Milton Obote (Uganda's first President) from power by Idi Amin in 1970, and portrays Amin's descent into disillusionment and his attempts to justify his actions all while wooing the Western media and the international community.

What makes this film excellent is also one of its shortcomings. Because the film is told through the experiences of Dr. Nicolas Garrigan, the film does not allow the viewer to get the full feel of the atrocities committed under Amin. Unlike Hotel Rwanda the audience is largely shielded from the full impact of what Ugandans went through under Amin. While taking the focus off of Amin added depth to the story, it blunted the reality of what it was like to live under the Amin era.

Both McAvoy and Whitaker's performances are deserving of recognition come award season. While McAvoy's role was based on a fictional character, Whitaker became Idi Amin. His stance and demeanor expertly mimicked those of Amin, allowing one to easily forget Whitaker's Texas roots. Playing Kay Amin was Bronx, New York born, African American actress Kerry Washington, who also gave a wonderful performance as Idi Amin's wife. Both Whitaker and Washington followed in the traditions of Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, and Danny Glover, African Americans playing African characters. Their accents and body language showed the effort and hard work both actors put into their roles.

The film was shot on location in Uganda and shows off the beauty of the nation once known as the “Pearl of Africa”. The lush and fertile land that is found in Uganda was the backdrop of the film, adding to the realistic feel of the story. Also featured prominently in the film was the Swahili language. As a Swahili speaker it was a bit hard on the ears. Among East Africans, Ugandans are perhaps among the worst Swahili speakers, when compared to Kenyans and Tanzanians. So, while the use of Swahili among Amin and the military was real, so was their proficiency of the language.

The film featured a well rounded cast and offered lessons on everything from the disillusions that often accompany dictatorships to the role Europe, specifically Britain, played in post-colonial Africa. Whether one knows nothing about Uganda or is well read on Ugandan history, the film gives a peak, through the eyes of a Scottish doctor, into the world of one of the world's worst dictators and an era of fear for all Ugandans.

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