Arts & Life


The late African dictator Idi Amin was never content with being called president of Uganda. At news conferences, he favored more fanciful titles like Conqueror of the British Empire. One name that Idi Amin gave himself - the Last King of Scotland - now serves as the title for a fact based movie thriller.

Bob Mondello has this review.

BOB MONDELLO: Idi Amin came to power in a military coup in 1971, and because the regime he toppled was corrupt and violent, he was initially greeted with open arms. As portrayed by Forest Whitaker, he sounds like a classic populist giving speeches that quote the real Idi Amin word-for-word.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Last King of Scotland”)

Mr. FOREST WHITAKER (Actor): (as Idi Amin) (Unintelligible) Idi Amin (unintelligible), and I want to promise you this will be a government of action, not of words.

(Soundbite of cheers)

MONDELLO: Soldiers scan the crowd for signs of trouble but find none.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Last King of Scotland”)

Mr. WHITAKER: I may wear the uniform of a general but a (unintelligible) into my heart. I am a simple man like you.

MONDELLO: It's an engaging political performance. And a young Scottish doctor named Nicholas gets so swept up in its man of the people ethos that he seriously oversteps a little later. While bandaging the general's hand after a jeep crashes into some livestock, he impulsively grabs a gun and puts a dying cow out of its misery, then turns back to his patient to see a scowl that wasn't there back at that speech in the village.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Last King of Scotland”)

Mr. WHITAKER: You took my gun.

Mr. JAMES MCAVOY (Actor): (as Nicholas Garrigan) Yeah.

Mr. WHITAKER: Who are you?

Mr. MCAVOY: Nicholas, I'm Dr. Nicholas Garrigan. I work at a medical compound in (unintelligible). I'm a doctor.

Mr. WHITAKER: You are British.

Mr. MCAVOY: Well, I'm Scottish. I'm Scottish.

Mr. WHITAKER: Scottish?

Mr. MCAVOY: Yeah.

Mr. WHITAKER: Why didn't you say so? I thought we discuss (unintelligible). Great soldiers, very brave. Let me tell you, if I could be anything instead of a Ugandan, I would be a Scot.

Mr. MCAVOY: Really?

Mr. WHITAKER: Except for the red hair, which I'm sure is attractive to your women, but which we Africans, we find this quite disgusting.

MONDELLO: There's the populist again. Within days, the young doctor, played by James McAvoy, is part of the president's retinue, his personal physician guiding the nation's hospital system. And it's from that vantage point, a gilded cage, if ever there was one, that he watches as 50,000 Asians are deported and reports surface of the slaughter of thousands of dissidents, their bodies thrown to crocodiles, and the dictator's mood shifts become more and more volatile.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Last King of Scotland”)

Mr. WHITAKER: I want you to tell me what to do.

Mr. MCAVOY: You want me to tell you what to do?

Mr. WHITAKER: Yes, you are my advisor. You are the only one I can trust in here. You should have told me not to throw the Asians out in the first place.

Mr. MCAVOY: I did.

Mr. WHITAKER: But you did not persuade me, Nicholas. You did not persuade me.

MONDELLO: Director Kevin McDonald cut his teeth on documentaries, and shooting on location in Uganda, reportedly the first western filmmaker to do so since The African Queen a half century ago, he gives Idi Amin's story a cinematic urgency to match its historical events.

The young doctor, let's note, is a fictional character, a composite created by Giles Foden for his novel The Last King of Scotland. But as played by McAvoy, he's intriguingly conflicted, and if his plot arc doesn't always ring plausible, well, he's not the story anyway.

Forest Whitaker's Idi Amin is the story - commanding, fearsome, wild eyed and all too scarily human for a man you desperately want to dismiss as a monster.

I'm Bob Mondello.

BLOCK: And you can hear an interview with Forest Whitaker at our Web site,

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from