The Last King of Scotland

Okay, during the film festival I promised I’d blog about some of the great films I saw — perhaps closer to their release dates.

I’ve just realized that a few have come and gone already… Ooops.

But one that’s in theatres right now you should check out is The Last King of Scotland. A deeply powerful film about a dark period in Ugandan history.

It tells the story of the brutal dictator, Idi Amin Dada. This is the synopsis from the official web site for the film:

“In an incredible twist of fate, a Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) on a Ugandan medical mission becomes irreversibly entangled with one of the world’s most barbaric figures: Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). Impressed by Dr. Garrigan’s brazen attitude in a moment of crisis, the newly self-appointed Ugandan President Amin hand picks him as his personal physician and closest confidante. Though Garrigan is at first flattered and fascinated by his new position, he soon awakens to Amin’s savagery – and his own complicity in it. Horror and betrayal ensue as Garrigan tries to right his wrongs and escape Uganda alive.”

When I saw the film, I wondered if Dr. Garrigan had been a real person, and I’ve spoken to a few people who are convinced he was, but he wasn’t. He’s just an amazingly clever device used by the writer to show how the world (most particularly the British who aided in Amin’s rise to power) got sucked in by the initially charismatic dictator and how the world came to see the truth and horror that was Idi Amin. The “trick” here is that the novelist wrote the book (on which the movie is based) as a memoir. Okay, I assume it says novel on the cover, but it’s written as a memoir making lots of people think the protagonist really existed. The writer side of me is really impressed by this idea… What a great way to fictionalize historical events. Create a character, plunk him in the middle of the events you want to show and write his memoirs. I guess this isn’t entirely original–others have done it. But this movie (and I assume novel–haven’t read it) does it well. (Actually, in many ways Hotel Rwanda did this, too… Sure, that hotel manager existed, I actually saw him at the film’s premiere at the Toronto festival in 2004, so it’s not the same situation as Last King… but the manager’s role in using the hotel to save people was reputedly grossly exaggerated in the film in order to tell a good story. To roughly quote General Dallaire, the UN leader in Rwanda: “Yes, the UN used that hotel for refugees. Yes, I think I remember there being a helpful manager.” In some ways, this distortion of a real life character bothers me more than creating a completely fake one. Yes, centering Hotel Rwanda on a sympathetic and proactive protagonist was a good way to create a story appealing to the public… Perhaps it’s the Canadian patriot in me that didn’t like how they misrepresented Romeo Dallaire in that movie. He should have been the hero, and instead he was a drunk Nick Nolte, but I suppose it wouldn’t have sold as many tickets. If you want to see the Rwanda story told more acurately, rent the documentary SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL.)

But I’m seriously digressing. Back to The Last King of Scotland. I first doubted the doctor character was based on a real person during the resolution of his story. I don’t want to put any spoilers here… but I felt that if the circumstances surrounding the climax of the film were true, then his story would be better known. The climax of the film occurs during the 1976 hijacking of an Air France plane which Amin allowed to land in Uganda and whose hostages were famously rescued in an Isreali army raid. (and immortalized in the 1977 TV film RAID ON ENTEBBE)

Anyway. I thought THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND was a really great film. It’s not for the faint of heart, there’s some brutal and graphic violence, but the story is one everyone should know and the performances were amazing.

Forest Whitaker was astounding and James McAvoy (dubbed the It-boy of this year’s Toronto festival because he had 3 films screening–one I liked STARTER FOR TEN, one I didn’t PENELOPE) was equally good as the naive young doctor.

Check it out! If you’ve seen it, let me know what you think.

  1 comment for “The Last King of Scotland

  1. October 17, 2006 at 7:02 pm

    I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard great things about it.

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