The Last King of Scotland

We looked forward to viewing this film last night, a present for my recent birthday. I was sorely disappointed. Aside from Forest Whitaker, who does an amazing acting job fully deserving his Oscar, the acting is risibly poor. The cameo by Gillian Anderson shows up her painfully limited abilities.

But she isn’t helped by the main character, played by James McAvoy, who is simply one-dimensional, gauche, and inept. His expression rarely goes beyond surprise or amazement or shock and even then it’s often hard to make out which one he is trying to portray. There is an utter lack of depth. Only Whitaker’s stunning acting saves the film from being a total flop.

In fairness, McAvoy is not helped by the woeful plot and script. His character is supposed to be this young, innocent doctor who wants to do good for the world by putting his skills to use in a developing country. Right from the start, however, his naive surprise at the fact that Uganda is undergoing a military coup as he arrives is awfully hard to believe. And our belief in him as this intelligent observer is sorely tested by his blindness to Idi Amin’s true character as the film progresses. He is supposed to be surprised and taken aback when a British embassy man/spy hands him evidence of Amin’s atrocities and yet he is supposedly Amin’s “closest advisor”!!

However, all of this pales into insignificance when we watched the “Making of”-type documentary included on the DVD. Apart from the pontificating and hyperbole all these documentaries display (when lovey actors cosy up to darling directors) this one goes one better. One actor comments on how funny Idi Amin really was. Another states how, before Nelson Mandela, Amin was probably the world’s most famous black man (which may be true, but hardly for the right reasons). And on and on it went, all this eulogising about a brutal, mean, paranoid, uneducated, narrow-minded dictator. That it is estimated that he killed 300,000 people in his reign, or that he expelled all Asian nationals, or supported the kidnapping of innocent airplane passengers, or did other countless brutal things, that just seems a quirky character trait. Yeah, funny indeed, how hilarious.

In a deeper sense, we human beings seem painfully drawn in by the “glamour” of power. We are pulled in by the fascination with evil, the horror and the pity of it all. I am a victim of that too. We have a “great man” weakness, an obsession with it, that ends up – I think – normalising it in some way. If Amin had been this gentle, intelligent, moral man, who tried to do good for his country and succeeded, we wouldn’t be making films about him, would we? It just makes for a good story. Which is a pity, because Africa and Uganda sorely need men and women like that, who can make a difference to the lives of their people in an undramatic and democratic way.


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