I’m not one to “name drop”, but I will on this occasion. I smiled in recognition as former NSW Premier, Bob Carr and his wife Helena arrived at the Verona, today. “Hello Mr Carr”, I said, and we shook hands. I’m not 100% sure that he remembered my name, but he certainly remembered what I did for a living.
“How’s retirement?” I asked him, noticing that he was dressed very casually in a style my friend, Damien, later remarked looked like he was visiting a country electorate to make an announcement about drought funding. “Just great”, he told me, “Helena just noted that last year we went overseas seven times”.
Although retired, to my mind, Carr remains a political animal through and through, and that’s why it didn’t surprise me that he and Helena, like us, were there to see “The Last King Of Scotland”, the movie about Idi Amin. As I walked up the stairs, I noticed former Liberal advisor and spin doctor, Ian Kortlang was there too. Bob gave Ian a cheery hello, before moving on to say hello to some other people he obviously knew from his time in politics.
“It’s an interesting crowd. Not just the media. Aside from the media, who’s in the crowd?”, Damien asked me. “I don’t know”, I confessed, confused about the mixed group of people who’d assembled to see the movie. Young, old, gay, straight, black, white, asian. It was a mixed crowd who’d assembled to see a movie I’d only just heard about thanks to the Golden Clobe Awards. Clearly, it was a crowd interested in politics. I mean, why else, would you go to see a movie about Idi Amin. Neither Damien nor I had much idea about the film’s plot, although Damo had done a little research to understand more about the film’s title.
The title, “The Last King Of Scotland” has a dual role in this film, both describing the character of Nicholas Garrigan, the younger doctor who through chance ended up as a senior advisor to Idi Amin, and in describing Amin’s own interest in Scotland. Although I was alive during the reign of Idi Amin, I didn’t know about his interest in Scotland, manifest in the naming of his children and in the reasons why his troops wore kilts (for example) and why the young doctor in this film was welcomed so warmly by Amin. “If I wasn’t Ugandan, I’d be Scottish”, Amin declares.
The role of Nicholas, played James McAvoy (aka Spunky Nicholas) is a character I both liked and disliked. The film explains why he was genuinely seduced by Amin, both on a personal and intellectual level. however, there were occasions where his innocence was charming, and occasions where it was frustrating. How could he honestly not know what was going on? Well, he did, but he either chose to ignore it for the greater good, or he ignored it for his own self-preservation.
The actor who played Amin, Forrest Whittaker, was totally convincing. He effectively conveys the dual nature of Amin, as both beguilling and evil. His characterisation shows both why those around him, and the international media, were beguiled by Amin, but also the evil-ness, brought about it seems, through a paranoia or something like that. I have to admit though, that although he’s played many roles since, on occasion I kept remembering him as Jody from The Crying Game.
The only actor whose role I thought was disappointing was Gillian Anderson – Agent Scully – who added little to the film, except perhaps as a love interest. I didn’t even think her role as “conscience” for Nicholas was particularly effective, since he revealed himself to have that conscience.
The story of Nicholas is just amazing, the idea that a young Scottish doctor could end up so close to Amin, though later research has revealed the character of Nicholas is the composite of several real-life characters. Nonetheless, it’s a great story.
The film is genuinely funny, and at one point I found myself, uncomfortably thinking, “I shouldn’t be laughing at this”. The humour, however, is more than offset by the graphic violence. There was one occasion, for example, when I had to turn my head from the screen. The woman next to me had done the same, and later, my friend Damien had confessed that he’d avoided the screen during the scene also.
So in all, it provides, I think a good understanding of why Amin came to power, remained in power, and why he was so evil.
On an entirely different level, through the music and the landscape, the film also reveals a little about the people of Uganda. In common with Hotel Rwanda, this film makes you think about the people who were, themselves, victims of the colonial era. Looking for a solution to their economic woes, brought about through colonisation, it’s no wonder they looked to Amin. The film reveals him as a very seductive character, sprouting the nationalist rhetoric they obviously wanted to hear. But as the character played by Gillian Anderson observes, to the optimistic Nicholas, “They said the same about Obote” (Amin’s predecessor). Also in common with Hotel Rwanda, the film remins us about how uninmportant, tragically, Africa remained on the world stage. “You deserve to die”, someone tells Nicholas, “But go and tell the world about Amin, because they will believe you, because you are a white man”.