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The Last King of Scotland

Charming. Magnetic. Murderous 

Year: 2006 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Kevin Macdonald 
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson  
An image from The Last King of Scotland

Would you trust your future on the spin of a globe? Nicholas (McAvoy) does precisely that in 1970 to decide where to go now that he's a doctor. The answer? Uganda: A country looking forward to a bright future under the incoming president Idi Amin (Whitaker).

After settling into his job in a rural clinic, Nicholas is impressed by a speech of Amin's, much more so than the clinic leader's wife Sarah (Anderson), who worries that it's history repeating. Driving to the clinic, they are stopped by soldiers requesting their help after Amin's motorcade has been involved in an accident. Upon learning of Nicholas' Scottish heritage, Amin befriends the doctor.

As their friendship develops, Nicholas becomes more than a doctor, developing into the Ugandan leader's "most trusted advisor". This closeness also provides Nicholas with insights into the way Amin is using his power to oppress those who oppose him. Added to the brutality that he has witnessed, Nicholas learns that one of Amin’s wives is pregnant with his child. He tries to protect both mother and child, but soon realises that he needs to save himself whilst he still can.

This is not a film for those who like a nice walk in the park. It’s gritty and to the point, a serious story told in a cleverly crafted manner, with beautiful backdrops and a highly skilled cast. Forest Whitaker is brilliant as Amin and totally deserved the best actor Oscar that he received in 2007. For McAvoy too, this was a breakthrough role. If you haven’t seen this film, then this is a special opportunity to see it on the big screen where it belongs, so don’t miss out!

Robert Gardner

Dr Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy) is a newly qualified doctor from a long family of Scottish medics, who after looking at his father over the dinner table one evening decides he really needs to get away. Spinning his globe lands him in Zimbabwe working for a small medical project helping some of the most needy civilians. It is here that he meets Sarah Merrit (Anderson) the provocative wife of the man in charge of the project.

Meanwhile, the people are celebrating the arrival of President Amin to town, and Garrigan takes Mrs Merrit to the rally welcoming this leader. On the way home they come across the president's car following an accident. The president has been injured and Nicholas braves the armed guards to offer help. Idi Amin takes a shine to Nicholas and his Scottish roots and offers him a job. From there the two men become closer in a friendship that is not all it seems, and the walls close in around Nicholas without him really knowing they are there.

One of the advantages of not watching the news and being ignorant about world affairs is that when a historical film like The Last King of Scotland comes along you don't really know what is going to happen. Ignorance is also quite a theme of the film, as the main protagonist, Nicholas Garrigan, is kept in the dark about what is going on in the rest of Zimbabwe, and we are kept in the dark with him. In this way the film cleverly focuses on the character of Idi Amin rather than just concentrating on his actions, which gives a unique and effective feel to this historical film.

As you probably know, Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for his role, and after seeing his portrayal you can certainly see why. His is one of those rare performances where the actor becomes the character so much that they are hard to recognise as anything else. James McAvoy is wonderful as the slightly reckless but compassionate doctor and his performance carries a lot of humour and humanity.

This is a tense but highly watchable and brilliant film well worth 122 minutes of your time.

Nick Grills

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Screenings of this film:

2006/2007 Summer Term (35mm)
2006/2007 Summer Term (35mm)
2009/2010 Autumn Term (35mm)