Movie Review: Last King of Scotland

In a shocking development, I actually went to a movie theater over the weekend. The flick? Last King of Scotland.

I watch so few movies that I have virtually no comparisons or context; the result is that every movie I watch is “pretty good”. Last King of Scotland definitely fits this bill, with the exception of Forest Whitaker’s performance which was absolutely extraordinary. If you read about Whitaker’s preparation for the role, you’ll see the correlation between upfront preparation and the end result. Apparently he didn’t lose his Swahili-accent for months after production ended.

The movie tracks General Idi Amin’s rise to power in Uganda in the late 1970s. We watch a dictator whose charm is undeniable. At the beginning, he wins the affection of a young Scottish doctor (and me!). But not for long. We learn that the good intentions he displays in public are destroyed by the mass murders he secretly orders against opponents. Indeed, the film reinforces the worst realities of many African countries over the years: tyrannical rule by unelected dictators who squander money and kill opponents; the hopeful thinking of the people that “this president could be the man who turns things around” and then the crushing reality; corruption inside and out of the government; and on and on and on.

As with any movie which is either based on real events or, as in the case of this film, “inspired by real people and events,” it’s always fun to read up on the actual events and identify where the filmmakers exaggerated. My brief research suggests that the movie is accurate enough to give a sense as to what happened, untrue side plots notwithstanding.

The most penetrating line of the movie comes near the end, when a black minister turns to the Scottish doctor who’s escaping from the country and says: “Tell the world what’s really happening here. They’ll believe you. You’re a white man.”

2 comments on “Movie Review: Last King of Scotland
  • Too many people are unaware of the history of the African continent, and how its exploitation by the European powers for centuries left a legacy of governmental instability, because ancient tribal lands were appropriated.

    For example:

    The Congo Free State was a kingdom owned personally by Leopold the II of Belgium that included all of what we know now as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    By skillful diplomacy and deceit, Leopold won the co-operation of the major powers of Europe, and in 1885 seized 905,000 square miles of territory that became the Congo “Free” State, owned wholly by Leopold himself.

    He introduced the concept of terres vacantes, which meant that any land not occupied by European settlers was deemed to belong to the state.

    The savage Leopold resorted to ordering the assassinations of recalcitrant chiefs, and sent in the Force Publique to terrorize the native population.

    The officers were white minions of the state, and many of the black soldiers were cannibals. They burned villages and cut off human hands as trophies under orders of the white officers, who required them to show one hand for every bullet used.

    This practice became so commonplace that these severed hands actually became a kind of currency.

    During the 20-year period of Leopold’s brutal reign of terror, the native population of the Congo “Free” State was reduced by half.


    Wikipedia article on the Congo Free State.

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