The Last King of Scotland (4 stars)

(15) 122min

The only similarity that the Nicholas Garrigan of this film has with his namesake in Giles Foden’s book is, indeed, his name. The Garrigan of the book is a dull-witted, slightly ignorant and rather un-endearing Scot, whereas in the movie James McAvoy, under instruction from Peter Morgan’s (The Queen, The Deal) script plays him as a lovable rogue, able to pull African girls by batting his eyelashes and smooth-talking his way out of the most impossible situations.

This makes for a rather incongruous introduction to the Uganda of Idi Amin with Garrigan hooking up with an older woman (Gillian Anderson) in a rather pointless relationship that should have been left on the cutting room floor. It’s as if director Kevin Macdonald doesn’t believe that Scots men (such as Roger Livesey’s Torquil MacNeil in his grandfather Emeric Pressburger’s 1945 film I Know Where I’m Going) are still tenable romantic leads in cinema. Macdonald, making his first foray into fictional filmmaking after his excellent documentaries One Day in September and Touching the Void, has made the bold and correct choice. For once his Garrigan meets up with the towering presence that is Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin, the story becomes action packed and rolls out with a pace largely absent from the book.

Whitaker has received the bulk of the critical acclaim for his turn, and rightly so. It’s a career best performance, far above even the work he did in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog. His Amin is as towering, threatening and incredibly charismatic as you can imagine from watching Barbet Shroeder’s excellent documentary General Amin. He does what Will Smith couldn’t do in Michael Mann’s Ali, capture the essence of an iconic figure. An Oscar may be Whitaker’s fitting reward. With Garrigan being a character from Foden’s mind it’s okay that Macdonald takes the ultimate story liberty by having his protagonist impregnate Amin’s third wife Kay (Kerry Washington). It makes for an exciting dénouement to what is a commendable action film rather than astute political portrait.

General release from Fri 12 Jan.

The Last King of Scotland

  • 4 stars
  • 2006
  • US / UK
  • 2h 3min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
  • Cast: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney

Macdonald's first fictional film sees McAvoy playing Nicholas Garrigan as a smooth-talking lovable rogue who accidentally ingratiates himself with 1970s Ugandan president Idi Amin (Whitaker). With a career best performance from Whitaker and an action packed pace, it makes for a commendable action film rather than an…