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February 26, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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The King of Scotland

This film is centered around young Scottish Doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, looking for adventure in 1970s Uganda. He arrives just as the coup that puts General Idi Amin into power is taking place. After a short time working at a small medical centre in the impoverished countryside, he has a chance meeting with the new dictator that results in Nicholas becoming his personal physician. He is soon sucked into the inner circles of the vicious regime.

There is a major element missing from this film. I knew very little about Idi Amin and the period he ruled Uganda, and after seeing The Last King of Scotland I think I know less. The film lacked any historical or political context. We learn that the people danced in the streets when Amin’s predecessor gained power, when Amin took over, and again when he was overthrown. Is this because populist leaders with nationalist rhetoric, were able to tap into a post-colonial peoples desire for genuine liberation, or were Ugandans just easy to fool? You will not find out in this film. The role of the British, represented in the film by a creepy diplomat, is portrayed as backing the coup to strengthen the country against the commies. Despite Amin’s brutality not even coming close to the pain, death and suffering that the British Empire has dealt out, they turn against him, while still supporting worse dictators. The film looks at this only briefly and never explains why.

It might be said that the personal stories are what’s important and that the wider context does not really matter. The Last King of Scotland was like watching Star Wars as if it was missing the parts that showed the empire is evil. With out presenting the big picture, the claim that this film is based on actual events is meaningless

This film would be just another ‘Africa through the eyes of a white man story’ if it was not for Forest Whitaker’s outstanding performance as Idi Amin. His portrayal of the brutal yet charismatic dictator is mesmerizing. The second most interesting character and the only likable one, is Uganda itself. Filmed in Uganda (against the wishes of the films financial backers) it shows glimpses of a beautiful and complex country. If however you want to have any real understand of what happened in Uganda you would be better off starting with Wikipedia.

Directed by Kevin MacDonald

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