I saw The Last King of Scotland not so long ago, and thought this film is worth more words than many films I’ve seen. It weaves fiction with the very real horror inflicted on Uganda in the dictatorship of Idi Amin, played by Forest Whitaker.
Unlike Hotel Rwanda where the main character is taken from real life, the main character in this film is a fictional brash young man, Dr Garrigan played by James McAvoy, recently graduated as a medical doctor. He goes to Uganda in search of excitement and adventure, maybe sow some oats and make his mark. He’s quite sure of himself, but knows very little about what he’s getting himself in for.
This can be seen quite early on as he gets overly intimate with the natives even before he’s started working, and as he settles in he doesn’t take any of the hints from his coworkers concerning the culture of Uganda, or even his own culture.
Before he know’s it, he’s the personal physician of Idi Amin, and is slowly drawn into Amin’s bosom as a confidante and advisor. Initially he sees this as a good thing, as Amin is an amiable, charming, likable man with plenty of character. As Garrigan’s knowledge of Amin grows, he begins to realise he’s in the presence of a very dangerous and evil man. Even before he realises this, Amin has made it virtually impossible for him to leave Uganda. It’s only during the hijacking of a plane bound for Paris from Tel Aviv at Entebbe that Garrigan, with the help of a Ugandan doctor who sacrifices himself, is able to leave.
It’s interesting to see how the film uses the fictional character of Garrigan to tell the snippet of Ugandan history under Amin. To see a coup d’etat take place under Amin’s command, with the stated aim of improving the life for every Ugandan, to see Amin’s aims compromised by Amin himself as his taste for power increases, triggering fears for his own personal safety. The film, albeit rather indelicately and without too much depth, also shows how Europeans have treated Africa and are, in part, to blame for the situation most Africans are in today. If it were not for the British, Amin might not even have seized power, in fact Amin might not have even made a mark on African history. As Amin, Whitaker gives a remarkable performance of a man who, from the outside, appears to be a good thing for Uganda, but as more is revealed of him, is ultimately shown to be delusional and even worse than the man he replaced.
A good film giving a small, but focused, glimpse into the history of Uganda and its people. Well worth seeing.