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“The Last King of Scotland” (2007) Dir Kevin MacDonald. Film 4 This Week

A young doctor becomes mixed up in the maelstrom of African Politics and unwittingly comes under the spell of a brutal dictator…..

Some reviewers have found the fictional element to be a problem, but for me this film’s job is to tell the story of the brutality and barbarism of Idi Amin, whose charismatic and magnetic personality raised, and then cruelly dashed the hopes and aspirations of a generation in Uganda and so doing persuaded thousands of people to commit the foulest of acts, or at least to be ambivalent, such was their faith in the big man.

As usual the good old British Empire is to be found at the root of the trouble in this green and pleasant land, rich in natural resources and blessed with a warm and wet climate.

Upon independence Milton Obote took the reins of power and on being implicated in a gold smuggling plot which saw accusations that he used the economy like his own personal bank account, he suspended the Constitution and in cahoots with former British Officer and now Ugandan Army Chief Idi Amin, embarked on totalitarian rule.

The Western Powers and Britain in particular were unmoved by such actions, along with Human Rights abuses until Obote attracted ire by declaring himself a Socialist and accepting aid from the Soviet Union.

Wrong! Encouraged by the British spooks that operated in Kampala, Amin was tipped the wink that the Heath Government would not be adverse to a bit of the old Coup activity, provided the General toed the line in the Cold War stakes.

Amin was swept to power on a tidal wave of anti corruption euphoria and without doubt his larger than life personality, allied to a passionate belief in his Countrymen made him initially wildly popular at home, and indeed in the corridors of Whitehall and the Pentagon.

Saddam Hussein/Robert Mugabe and the semi rehabilitated then revilved again Col. Gaddaffi and Martin McGuiness anyone?

The film documents this period and we see through the eyes of Dr. Garrigan how easy it is to be flattered and seduced by power and it’s material trappings.

Amin’s well documented psychological issues stated to come to the fore which culminated in him nationalising a la Nasser, his hero, British business interests. He quickly learnt that in common with Robert Mugabe ANY bad behaviour is tolerated by the West until their financial dealings are effected. Then it’s you’re on your own, sunshine.

Garrigan, however could see the blatant hypocrisy in the British position which only seemed to drive him closer to his now close friend.

The old theme of sexual jealousy finally drives a wedge between the Scot and the Dictator and we see the scales finally fall from his eyes. Escape proves futile until the Entebbe Raid provides an opportunity….

As a film this was brilliant and only adds to our knowledge of this tragic Continent, the World’s asset richest, but denuded by Western Capitalism into abject poverty.

Forrest Whittaker gets the balance right portraying a monster whilst showing the human side and avoiding empathy. A hard ask and he deserves his Oscar as the leader of a strong cast, crew and writing team.

The movie is based on the book of the same name, and whilst factual the main character, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan is a distillation of protagonists as witnessed by the author Giles Fodden who lived in Uganda in the Seventies.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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