The Last King of Scotland has a geographically misleading title in that it follows the life of a Scot in Uganda. Only the first minutes take place in Scotland. It follows a young Scot doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, as he moves to Uganda to work in a bush clinic. He quickly finds himself taken in by President Idi Amin as his personal doctor. After Amin is injured wrist is wrapped by the young Scot, the movie is underway.
Arriving in Uganda, the viewer sees the savanna environment, grassy with a dry, hot feel to it. The variety of animal life is present, but not a focus point. They drive along wide open grass plains on the normal African dirt roads. Arriving at the bush hospital, the informality of the bush city and surroundings strikes one. The clothes are natural of the bush and not the modern hospital. The massive demand for limited services is clear from just the crowding. Yet children smile and play in other scenes.
The traditional Land Rover of the British bush is used. Of course a rugged vehicle is required given the dirt roads. Otherwise hard on the body is soccer played in bare feet.
Some traditional elements of Africa appear in the high pitched chanting, particularly the female voices, and in the drone of the drums and wooden xylophone-like instrument. A different sense of tone and beat sets a sound for the environment.
Once the doctor is taken in by Amin, he is whisked away to the urban environment. Here the uninformed probably finds the greatest dissonance from the traditional stereotypes of Africa. The buildings are modern. There are stores and multi-story office buildings. They do have an empty look to them as hall ways are long and lack decoration.
Also given the traditional setting of “Africa,” lavish dinner parties with men in suits and women in fine ball gowns will inform yet be strange. In addition fairly modern stores, appropriate to the 1970s though, will also seem out of character. Later Africans at a club drinking western cocktails and listening to a singer belting “Me and Bobby McGee” will contrast with traditional stereotypes’
From the historic perspective one is visiting Uganda as Dictator Idi Amin controls the country. The elevated level of violence, unfortunately not limited to Uganda during the time period of the film, is ugly. Amin’s mental instability is stark and the violence is near sickening.
The inter-tribal nature of Amin’s violence is noted but not really pushed to clarity. A person from a non-favored tribe met with death in many circumstances. It shakes our doctor early, but its true nature is not really pursued. It is just left a death, not a death from inter-tribal warfare. He is being outfitted for a suit when an attack takes place on the street. He is shook, but the viewer is little informed by the scene as to the tribal warfare witnessed.
In the end this is an ugly film. But, the time period was ugly. Africa is still bathed in this same ugliness and horror. Uganda is not the only case of genocide and terror. The colonial age did not fade away into a life of peace form many here. Societies disorganized by colonial damage have suffered by inter-tribal fighting and the breakdown of traditional authority and social systems by that colonialism. This film highlights and episode of that aspect of African life
MacDonald, Kevin. 2006. The Last King of Scotland. Film. Hollywood: Fox-Searchlight.