Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) wasn’t looking to change the world.
He just wanted an excuse to keep him from spending the rest of his life in Scotland, in medical practice with his father. So a spin of the globe leads the young doctor to service in a small village in Uganda.
Garrigan arrives in Uganda as the people are celebrating the coup that brought Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) to power. When the new president visits the village where Garrigan works, Amin’s vibrant personality instantly wins the young doctor—and the rest of the village—over. After Amin’s speech, the president is injured in an accident, and Garrigan is called upon to treat his hand—and the encounter leads him to amazing new opportunities. First, he’s offered a position as the president’s personal physician—and before long, he’s one of Amin’s most trusted advisors, often attending meetings and making decisions in the president’s absence.
For a while, Garrigan enjoys his good fortune—rejecting requests from the British government officials in Uganda for details about Amin’s policies and plans for the country. But as the president becomes more paranoid and impulsive—and as members of Amin’s staff begin to mysteriously disappear—Garrigan begins to realize that the allegations against Amin could very well be true. He starts looking for a way to get out of Uganda alive—but Amin has no intention of letting him go.
Based on the novel by Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland offers an interesting (albeit fictional) look at Idi Amin’s regime. Whitaker is enchanting as the infamous leader—and he makes it easy to see why, initially, so many people saw his rise to power as a positive thing. He’s charismatic and fun-loving and personable—exactly the kind of guy whom everyone wants to be around. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re looking for a historically-accurate overview of Amin’s rule, you’ll be disappointed—because that’s not the point of the movie. It’s not a documentary. Instead, it’s a glimpse of history, as seen from the perspective of a fictional character.
Since the film’s focus is on Garrigan, the blissfully unaware young doctor (who was loosely based on Bob Astles, a British soldier who became one of Amin’s top advisors), you’ll see what Garrigan sees—that is, very little. You’ll discover the grim reality of the situation gradually—just as Garrigan does. Though it doesn’t give you the whole story, it gives you all of Garrigan’s story. And though its conclusion is somewhat abrupt, The Last King of Scotland tells a captivating story about a fascinating historical figure—and Whitaker’s show-stealing, Oscar-winning performance alone makes it worth seeing.