ARTYFACTS: The Last King of Scotland

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

Too black and white?
Like Apocalypto, there’s a whole debate about history, fiction and film on this one. It’s actually based on a novel and therefore doesn’t pretend to be real, on the other hand the opening credits do make claims about being based on real life characters and events – so we’re left hanging.

On the surface I enjoyed the film but, as is sometimes the case, on reflection deeper concerns surfaced. What had I really just witnessed, a realistic and probing attempt to uncover the problems that plague Africa, or another white good, black bad movie?

On the whole the balance of British Government interference, genuine people in the field and genuine Ugandans, helpless in the face of a series of dictators, is sensitively (if that's the right word) handled. But at times it's all too black and white. More than a few serious film critics have already pointed out that the movie follows the old formula of black Africa seen through white eyes, in this case a young Scottish doctor (at least it makes a change from snotty wife swapping English colonials), although they managed to sneak this in through the cliched cut-glass, accented beauty. Her 'I told you so' role was all to brief and odd.

This focus on Garrigan took some energy away from Amin and we never erally get to the bottom of his character. The big question is 'Why do these guys rise to the top and why do they turn into monsters?'. There are one-too-many, half-naked black women cavorting about, playing up to white view of African liscentiousness. A little more of Amin's past could also have been revealed We leave the film none the wiser about causes, only satisfied that Garrigan managed to eascape, and the Entebbe plot device was unimaginative.

A black watch
I also felt that it didn’t play the comic/tragic card nearly as well as it could have. I was also surprised to see the clichéd Scottish living room scene at the start with its Dr Kildare room and sherry at the dinner table. More could have been made about the Scotland connection. Scotland's military history is full of incidents that illuminate the colonial past and The Black Watch is surely a phrase that could have sneaked into the script.

Hope Forest Whitaker wins the Oscar. He was mesmerising as Amin and played the paranoid, hurt, calculating child-monster to perfection.


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