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Film / The Last King of Scotland

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"I am the father of this nation, Nicholas. And you have most... grossly... offended your father."
Idi Amin

The Last King of Scotland is a critically acclaimed 2006 Film of the Book which fictionalizes the rise and fall of Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), the infamous dictator of Uganda.

The movie starts in 1970 with Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a callow Scottish medical graduate. In rebellion against his father, he goes to work as a doctor in Uganda. While working in a missionary hospital and being hot for the married Sarah Meritt, he meets Idi Amin, a charismatic general who is so impressed with him that he appoints him to become his personal physician. The worst that can be said about this coup leader is his increasing paranoia that everyone is out to get him and the bad dreams suggesting when he's going to die. Plus, he farts big just like the rest of us. He's an alright dude.

Unfortunately, Idi Amin soon descends from a smiling, wide-eyed man of the people to the butcher history will remember him as.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: To help Nicholas unwind, Amin has two go-go dancers be his personal escorts for the evening. Nicholas finds both of them annoying and tiresome quickly, and starts ducking them.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: After Garrigan has seen ample evidence of what Idi Amin is capable of, he gets incredibly drunk and sleeps with Amin's wife, makes no effort to conceal the affair, and doesn't even use protection, leading to her pregnancy and her subsequent horrible death.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Every female, single or married, in the movie seems to hit on Garrigan. Also, Amin had three wives, but they probably did not have much of a choice.
  • An Aesop:
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: After he's done humiliating Nicholas for not believing him about Amin's atrocities sooner, Stone offers his help... in exchange for assassinating Amin. Subverted in the fact that Nicholas initially refuses to do so, before Kay's brutal murder proves to be the final straw for him and pushes him into action.
  • Antagonist Title: Brutal dictator Idi Amin is the eponymous Last King of Scotland referred to by the film's title (which was a real life title he took for himself). Nick Garrigan is the protagonist.
  • Ax-Crazy: Idi Amin. He is an incredibly volatile and vicious Mood-Swinger that just gets worse and worse as the movie goes on.
  • Batman Gambit: Attempted by Nicholas in order to kill Amin. It doesn't work and the consequences for doing so are not to be envied.
  • Bait the Dog: The central theme of the movie, both for Nicholas and the audience, is how Amin's veneer of charm and harmless eccentricity distracts them from the evil that only becomes obvious later on.
  • Big Bad Friend: Amin is the primary antagonist, and is the one responsible for just about every atrocity committed onscreen. His friendship with the naive protagonist forms the basis of the film.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Nicholas escapes Uganda with his life, as do all but one of the foreign hostages that Amin's forces take that sets off Operation Entebbe, and the whole Entebbe hostage incident has irreparably ruined Amin's international reputation and standing. But Nicholas has to live with the fact that many innocent and noble people, including his paramour, died thanks to him, and Amin is still in power at the film's end and he will remain in power for another three years.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Nicholas is initially deeply contemptuous of the Smug Snake British diplomat Stone, but while Stone is clearly someone with ambiguous ethics himself, it quickly becomes apparent that Amin is a thousand times worse. Unfortunately, Nicholas' earlier contempt and blindness comes back to bite him, since Stone makes it clear that he is going to demand a high price in exchange for his help in getting Nicholas out of the country. Nicholas himself is also not a paragon, being a rather selfish, naive and venal man for much of the movie.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: And how. Nicholas gets Kay pregnant and knows that between hers and Amin's Sexless Marriage and that Nicholas is the only white man in Amin's circle, their affair is certain to be discovered.
  • Body Double: Amin uses one to briefly trick Nicholas when he comes to talk to him.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Dr. Junju's fate, courtesy of a bullet from Masanga when the latter realises Junju helped Garrigan escape.
  • Broken Pedestal: Slowly but surely, Nicholas becomes disillusioned and then disgusted with Amin, the man he initially held in high esteem.
  • The Caligula: Amin, obviously. A ruthless dictator who's more interested in enjoying the perks of leadership instead of fulfilling the responsibilities, and will kill and/or torture anyone who gets in his way.
  • Call-Back: Early on, Nicholas mentions his Hippocratic Oath in passing to Amin. Later, Amin reminds him of his "oath." Unfortunately, Amin misunderstood, thinking this was an oath of fealty to himself. Nicholas instantly realizes what a bind that's going to put him in and futilely tries to clarify.
  • Chocolate Baby: Nicholas and Kay panic about her pregnancy, as between her and Amin's Sexless Marriage and him being the only white man in his circle, both her infidelity and the identity of the baby's father will inevitably be discovered.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Garrigan is punished for his affair with Kay by having his chest pierced by meat hooks and being hanged by his skin. Amin says the technique he used comes from a similar punishment in his childhood, with a tree, where every scream of the victim is evil leaving their body.
  • Court Physician: Having taken a shine to the young doctor during a chance encounter, Amin has Nicholas Garrigan attend not only to his own health but that of his family, while also allowing him to spend his off-hours working at a hospital. Unfortunately, though Garrigan is rewarded with five-star accommodations, fine clothes, fancy cars and significant influence, he soon ends up having to confront the human rights violations that ensue as his patient grows steadily more unstable. By the end, Garrigan is widely hated as an unwitting enabler of Amin's madness and treated as little more than a pet for the president to amuse himself with.
  • Crapsack World: Uganda under Amin. At first, things appear to be good under Amin, but as he shows his true colors, Uganda very quickly becomes a very unpleasant place to live.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Sorry, Kay. We only see the aftermath, but it clearly wasn't a pleasant way to go, as she is found dismembered on an autopsy table.
  • Cultural Posturing: Amin thoroughly indulges in black nationalism, extolling Africa as the cradle of civilization and Uganda as the heart of the world.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Garrigan and Amin.
  • Decoy Leader: Nicholas mistakes an Amin double for the real thing.
  • The Dragon: Masanga, the chief of Amin's soldiers.
  • Double Standard: Kay, one of Amin's three wives, is discarded by him because he holds her at fault for their child having epilepsy, yet he's enraged at the discovery of her infidelity.
  • Evil Is Petty: Amin seems to get a big kick out of humiliating his top cabinet officials, for no other apparent reason than to amuse himself.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Amin sports a deep voice, that actually gets deeper the more unhinged he gets.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Nicholas refuses to scream during his torture, and probably wasn't expecting to survive.
  • Fallen Hero: Amin definitely qualifies from Garrigan's perspective.
  • Fanservice: Topless gogo dancers with a side order of James McAvoy's arse. And front.
    • On the DVD commentary, director Kevin McDonald notes that the main thing everyone seemed to remember after test screenings was Kerry Washington's behind.
  • Fan Disservice: Kay's corpse is found completely naked. Aside from the standard "dead bodies are Squicky" effect, there's also the fact that she has a horrified expression on her face and her arms and legs have swapped positions, resulting in a grotesque figure.
  • Fatal Flaw:
    • Nicholas's naivety. Also, his desire for risks and adventure; throughout the movie, he keeps making rejecting the safe (and in his mind, boring) option in favour of something more risky and exciting, only for it to become increasingly clear as things get much worse for him that he really should have stayed with the safe option.
    • Amin suffers from a good deal of Pride and Wrath. His need to be right and reject all real criticism of himself and his incredible brutality destroys his country and eventually alienates the ever-loyal Nicholas.
  • A Father to His Men: Amin sells himself as this towards the beginning of the movie, claiming that he refuses to eat until his men have eaten first. This is gradually, horrifically subverted.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Idi Amin. Truth in Television as the real Amin was quite charming despite being every bit the unstable tyrant he's depicted as in the film. Even lampshaded by the Tag Line.
  • Filth: Amin and his inner circle are seen watching a private showing of Deep Throat in his palace. He asks Nicholas (a doctor) if it's medically possible for a woman to actually have a clitoris in their throat. Nicholas replies that in nature all aberrations are possible.
  • Fed to the Beast: Mentioned by Stone, who comments to Nicholas that Amin's forces are killing so many people in the countryside, they're no longer bothering to bury the bodies, instead just dumping them in Lake Victoria for the crocodiles to devour.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: Amin is fascinated by Scottish culture, going as far as proclaiming himself "the last king of Scotland" (hence the title). Conversely, he specifically despises English culture, so his affinity may also have something to do with seeing both Uganda and Scotland as rebels to the British state. When first meeting Nicholas, he immediately befriends him on the basis that he's a Scot, although he adds that redheaded women are ugly to him and other Africans.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: In tandem with History Repeats. Gillian Anderson's character, Sarah, correctly predicts that in two years Amin's regime would be as bad, if not worse, than Obote's. Every time a new leader replaces an old one, there's much rejoicing in the streets. After Amin's fall, Obote came back into power and committed further atrocities.
  • Gassy Scare: Idi Amin has consumed some medicine with beer, which results in a gas buildup in his stomach; Amin thinks he's dying, but his doctor presses on his stomach with a baseball bat; this lets his gas escape in an enormous fart. This scene is the first time the doctor sees the dark side to Idi Amin's personality; up until now, he has seen Amin as a jolly, comical individual but now he sees him ranting and paranoid (until the doctor cleared the gas, Amin thought someone had poisoned him).
  • Going Native: Brutally deconstructed. Garrigan leaves England seeking adventure in a far-off place like Uganda, eventually rising to become the personal physician of Amin before being charged with modernizing the Ugandan healthcare system. He initially takes Amin's word that the political oppression he sees is temporary and will be good for the country long term, but gradually realizes how massively in over his head he is. Amin even lampshades this, telling Garrigan that he treated coming to Uganda as if it were some sort of exotic vacation.
  • Hannibal Lecture: After Amin's men have pummeled Garrigan and are about to severely torture him, Amin (correctly to some extent) accuses him of being a white man who came to Africa as if it were all a game, to screw the local women and act like it was a giant vacation. Whatever Garrigan's personal faults might be, his retort to this is to finally state to Amin's face what none of his inner circle ever had the courage to point out, no matter how ridiculously obvious it increasingly became: "You are a child. That's what makes you so fucking scary".
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Obote and the Israelis.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Essentially what Dr. Junju does, treating Nicholas (tortured for betrayed Amin), freeing him, and secretly sending him on a plane out of Uganda knowing the consequences and simply saying "I don't know" when asked why he did it. And one of Amin's men promptly shoots him in the head.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Nicholas Garrigan is based on Bob Astles (he wasn't Scottish), who was imprisoned twice for his association to Ugandan presidents, Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Astles in real life was a Minion with an F in Evil; Garrigan on the other hand is a Loveable Rogue/Jerkass Woobie who, it is implied, helps bring down the Amin regime.
  • Hospital Paradiso: Nicholas decides to go to Africa to practice medicine because he doesn't want to spend his days treating run-of-the-mill problems in a dull clinic in Scotland.
  • Hypocrite: When Nicholas tries to convince Amin not to exile the Indians, Amin ridicules him for begging for his "fucking Asian tailors" and says that he's a nobody. When the media has a field day with this act, Amin says that he should have never done that and asks Nicholas why he didn't convince him not to, saying that he's his "personal advisor".
  • In-Film Nickname: Stone informs Nicholas that the public refers to him as "Amin's white monkey".
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Jokingly invoked by Amin himself during the first formal dinner scene. Also, rumours about Amin's cannibalism are given a nod.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Stone, the Smug Snake British Foreign Office representative that Garrigan hates, eventually turns out to be right about Amin's brutality. In no way is he nice about making his point to Nicholas when the doctor comes for his help after Amin replaces Nicholas' British passport with a Ugandan one to prevent him from escaping and tells him that the only way he'll help is if Nicholas does his bidding. Subverted when Nicholas IS willing to kill Amin after Kay's death....and Stone tells him he doesn't care anymore.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Dr. Junju, for helping Nicholas out of Uganda. One of Amin's men shoots him in the head, just as he mentions his wife.
  • Large Ham: Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. His effort in portraying the dictator didn't go unnoticed, as he won 23 awards for his role.
  • The Last Title: "The Last King of Scotland".
  • Love at First Sight: Nicholas is clearly attracted to Kay the moment he meets her.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Nicholas, briefly.
  • Male Gaze: At the final party scene, several dancers are featured. They have rather curvaceous butts, something the camera makes sure you don't miss.
  • Mercy Kill: Nicholas is called to a road accident where Amin has sprained his hand after his vehicle collided with a cow. The cow keeps bellowing while Nicholas is trying to treat the injury, until he impulsively grabs Amin's pistol and kills the animal. This nearly gets him shot by Amin's bodyguards, but the tension is broken when Amin discovers that Nicholas is Scottish.
  • Mighty Whitey:
    • Subverted and deconstructed. Nicholas believes, at first, that he can solve Uganda's problems (well, at least some of them), but fails miserably. Lampshaded towards the end, when Amin admonishes Nicholas for trying to "play the 'white man and the natives' game".
    • Invoked in the ending, when Dr. Junju tells Nicholas he's helping him escape because Nicholas, as a white man, will be believed when he tells the world of Amin's crimes.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction:
    • Nicholas receives an order from Amin's soldiers that he is very sick and when he visits him, Amin himself believes that he was poisoned by Obote's men. Turns out the problem was just built-up gas due to Amin mixing beer with aspirin.
    • How the two of them meet: Nick and Sara get pulled over by soldiers looking for a doctor after Amin is injured in a car accident with a cow. Turns out Amin only sprained his hand, but the way he and his guards act, you'd think he had been severely injured—he even later introduces Nicholas as "the man who saved my life".
  • Mood-Swinger: Amin can go from affable to bloodthirsty to paranoid to depressed in the blink of an eye.
  • New Era Speech: In his first scene, Amin delivers a rousing speech about how things are going to improve under his leadership.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The guy Nicholas reports and accidentally gets murdered was actually trying to bring more medicine to Uganda.
  • "No. Just… No" Reaction: Dr. Junju's response, after his initial reaaction to hearing about Nicholas's affair with Kay when the latter insists she needs an abortion that Junju flatly refuses to perform.
    Dr. Thomas Junju: It's the President's hospital, he's bound to find out! [...]NO! No...he would kill her and us!
  • No Kill like Overkill: Amin's wife Kay, whose body is found inside a hospital... with some body parts rearranged. She had been apprehended by Amin's forces and brutally murdered and tortured for her affair with Garrigan; Garrigan finding her body is what convinces him to let the world know about Amin's regime.
  • Non-Indicative Title: You're in for a surprise if you think this movie is going to be a Braveheart-style epic about Scottish kings. In fact, Amin had no actual authority in Scotland in the first place, the self-given title just being part of his Foreign Culture Fetish.
  • Oh, Crap!: Nicholas has several of these, increasing in severity. First when he hears that the man he reported has disappeared; it's his first inkling that Amin isn't the good guy he presents himself as (he later finds out the guy WASN'T plotting treason). Then when he discovers that Amin replaced his British passport with a Ugandan one, then when Stone shows him all the atrocities that are happening in the countryside and what Amin did to eliminate his opposition, then when he finds Kay's body and finally, there's when his Batman Gambit to kill Amin fails and when Amin tells him that he knows about his affair with Kay.
  • The Paranoiac: Amin. He frequently rants that some of his associates (if not all of them) plot to kill him. Some of the murders he commits are also simply based on his paranoia. In one scene he also says that he's surrounded by traitors.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Amin cements this with his expulsion of Asians. He also has an ableist attitude toward one of his children with epilepsy.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Amin: ...Or are you like all the other British? Just here to fuck, and then take away?
  • President Evil: Amin, of course. He's the new President of Uganda and a deranged and violent dictator.
  • Properly Paranoid: Definitely averted by Amin, but played straight with Nicholas, who tries to find a way to get out of Uganda without being seen by Amin's men, who were ordered by Amin himself to prevent this.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Idi Amin.
    Nicholas Garrigan: You're a child. That's what makes you so fucking scary.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Amin delivers one to Nicholas during his torture.
    Amin: Look at you. Is there one thing you have done that is good? Did you think this was all a game? 'I will go to Africa and I will play the white man with the natives.' Is that what you thought? We are not a game, Nicholas. We are real. This room here, it is real. I think your death will be the first real thing that has happened to you.
    • Stone also gives a cold and accurate one about Nicholas's complicity in Amin's atrocities when the former comes begging for help to escape Uganda.
    Stone: You know what they're calling you? His white monkey.
    Nicholas: I'm his doctor. It's not my job to judge the man!
    Stone: (in a mocking Scottish accent) "I'm his doctor"! Is that your defence? Fuck off, Garrigan. We don't just hand out passports to chimps like you, particularly not chimps with blood on their hands!
  • Redheads Are Uncool: Amin tells Garrigan at one point, "If I could be anything other than a Ugandan, I would be a Scot. Except for your red hair, which I understand your women find attractive, but we Africans find quite disgusting."
  • Scary Black Man: Amin, of course. Some of his men are also this.
  • Serial Homewrecker: Nicholas pursues two married women at different points, despite having plenty of opportunities to go for less dangerous conquests. The first one doesn't progress past Unresolved Sexual Tension, but the second has the husband finding out... who just so happens to be an Ax-Crazy dictator.
  • Shout-Out: To King Lear — 'nothing comes from nothing'.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic: Idi Amin is the main historical figure the film's about, but the POV comes from Amin's doctor.
  • Shoot the Dog: Garrigan is caught in an ambush meant for Amin, and runs over a civilian rather than stop, as they'd be dead anyway the moment the gunmen realised that Amin was in his car.
  • Sleeping with the Boss's Wife: Nicholas Garrigan drunkenly has an affair with one of Idi Amin's wives, Kay, made even worse when she becomes pregnant as a result of the encounter. This ends in Kay being brutally murdered when she tries to get an abortion, and Nicholas to be tortured with meat hooks after he tries to assassinate Amin, with Amin clarifying that he knew about him and Kay all along.
  • Smug Snake: Stone. Particularly when Garrigan is begging for his help later: seeing Nicholas grovel pleases him to no end.
  • Spanner in the Works: Amin survives a well-planned assassination attempt only because he decides to travel in Garrigan's car instead of his official limousine.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Kay and Garrigan.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Amin is very prone to this, underscoring his mercurial personality.
  • Tested on Humans: Amin's bodyguard forces a Child Soldier to swallow one of the poisoned headache pills Garrigan had prepared for Amin, causing Garrigan to give himself away.
  • Thrill Seeker: Nicholas' greatest flaw, as he longs for excitement, only to repeatedly end up in serious danger.
  • Title Drop: Amin, who has an affinity for Scottish culture, refers to himself as "The Last King of Scotland" in one of his speeches.
  • Tranquil Fury: Amin and Nicholas's final confrontation is all the more terrifying due to the fact that Amin only raises his voice once. It really stands out due to the fact he's been hamming it up for the entire film.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Amin (if not so much in looks, definitely in personality) and Kay (presumably all his other wives as well).
  • The Unfavorite: Kay, the youngest of Amin's three wives. She was exiled by Amin because she gave birth to an epileptic son.
    Kay: He visits the children. Not me. He thinks that I am a bad omen.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Stone repeatedly uses the word "clarify" as a request for Garrigan to spy on and influence Amin on England's behalf. Nicholas pointedly lampshades this at one point:
    Nicholas: Is there some special school where you people learn to talk that bollocks?
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Subverted. Nicholas initially thinks that Amin, while harsh at times, is necessary in order to make Uganda a great country. As the movie goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Amin is actually a psychopath and that he just enjoys being a murderous dictator.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: While Idi Amin did exist and was a horrible dictator, Garrigan is a fictional character that incorporates some of Bob Astles' experiences.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Well, to say Villainous Breakdown would imply that he was stable at one point, but Amin still counts.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Amin again.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Nicholas throws up in full sight when he finds Kay's mutilated body.
  • Wall Bang Her: Nicholas. With Amin's wife, of all people.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Nicholas' has a T-shirt with the Scottish flag. Amin swaps his military shirt for it.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Deconstructed; Garrigan's idealism when it comes to Amin is ultimately revealed to be naiveté on an almost unforgivable scale. His belief in Amin effectively makes him an enabler to a psychotic dictator, and Stone bluntly tells him that he has blood on his hands for being "Amin's white monkey".
  • Woken Up at an Ungodly Hour: Nicholas Garrigan finds that his passport has been stolen and replaced with a Ugandan one, leaving him effectively trapped in Idi Amin's employ. In desperation, he seeks out the help of Stone, the local representative of the British Foreign Office, even visiting him at his home in the dead of night; Stone is clearly annoyed at being woken up but allows Garrigan inside anyway. Unfortunately, Stone isn't interested in helping his visitor out of the country, as Garrigan has been serving as an unwitting enabler of Idi Amin's human rights abuses, and the lateness of the hour means that Stone isn't in the mood to be his usual ingratiating self: once he's finished with his long-overdue "The Reason You Suck" Speech, he makes it clear that the only way he'll help Garrigan out of the country is if he uses his role as Court Physician to assassinate Amin.
  • You're Not My Type: Amin proudly declares his love for Scotland, but adds that he's not fond of the women, claiming that red hair is disgusting to Africans.