The Last King of Scotland takes a deep look at the rise of Uganda’s tyrannical dictator. Though it’s terribly cliche to state that absolute power corrupts absolutely, it’s the moral of this edge-of-your-seat thriller. In the movie, Amin is viewed though the easily impressed eyes of newly minted Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, who, through a twist of fate, becomes Amin’s personal doctor. At first flattered, Garrigan is seduced by Amin’s charm and enthralled by the position bestowed upon him; Amin tasks the young professional with helping to modernize the newly independent nation’s healthcare system. Garrigan sincerely believes that Amin aims to uplift his people, but as Garrigan routinely waves away the rumors of his benefactor’s brutality, it’s difficult for him dismiss events that occur closer to home. As Amin becomes more delusional, more outrageous, and more monstrous, Garrigan is slow to accept the truth that he is less the leader’s confidante and more like than a plaything for a madman, a point that is driven home when Garrigan gets involved with one of Amin’s wives, at great risk to both of them. Garrigan winds up in an untenable situation that offers only life or death solutions.
In addition to Barbet Schroeder’s documentary General Idi Amin Dada, this intriguing film is based on a novel by Giles Foden. Though it’s said to be inspired by real events, the physician Nicholas Garrigan is a fictional character loosely based on Foden’s conversations with Bob Astles, a Brit soldier who wormed his way into Amin’s confidence. BoldType ran an interview with Foden in which he said: “Major Bob, as he was known, is a former British soldier who inveigled himself into Amin’s favour – he was much more proactive than Garrigan – and became part of his apparatus of repression. After Amin’s fall, he was imprisoned for ten years in a Kampala jail. I discovered that he is now living in the leafy London suburb of Wimbledon and managed to persuade him to talk to me. It was a strange, even spooky occasion, going to this little house and meeting the man the British newspapers used to call Amin’s White Rat. He had come to believe his own version of events, and in some ways I felt sorry for him. The weirdest part was that he had a pet magpie which kept hopping and flapping round the room while I taped what Astles was saying. At one point, it got up and sat on Astles’s bald head and pecked it. The Major lit a cigar; then it dumped on his shoulder. Even though he now distances himself from the dictator, Astles seems to live in the same fantasy world as Amin. Garrigan does this too in the book, and that, more than anything, leads to his downfall: he becomes entranced by Amin’s voice, as much as anything.” Forest Whitaker’s performance – he is positively frightening as Amin – is breathtaking and James McAvoy, the satyr in The Chronicles of Narnia, does a good job of playing a well-meaning but sickeningly naïve man.