Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Kevin Macdonald (director), Jeremy Brock and Peter Morgan (screenwriters) The Last King of Scotland (2006)

The film The Last King of Scotland (2006) was directed by Kevin Macdonald from a screenplay by Jeremy Brock and Peter Morgan from the novel by Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland (1998).  The filmmakers were aware that, for much of his political career, Idi Amin, the president of Uganda from 1971−1979, enjoyed an impressive public image in the international media as an avuncular, paternal, and cheerful African leader who bravely defied British colonialism.  The filmmakers sought to expose this as a lie by revealing the true nature of Idi Amin as a paranoid, ruthless and murderous dictator.  The film therefore explores the contradictions between the public image of a famous dictator and the real man, conveying this by telling the fictional story of an idealistic young Scottish man, Dr Nicholas Garrigan, who falls for the public image of Idi Amin before coming to realise that he is decidedly evil. 

The film exposes how mortally dangerous it is to live under a regime dominated by a paranoid, ruthless and murderous dictator.  If the dictator becomes suspicious that an individual poses a threat to him, then that individual could be murdered.  In addition, the dictator’s brutal regime is shown to use torture on its real or perceived opponents. Furthermore, rather than representing the liberation of the Ugandan people from British colonial rule, the Amin regime represented a return to bloody tribal rivalry.  Idi Amin used political power and military force to crush tribal rivals and wipe out entire communities. 

The film also comments, with sensitivity, on misplaced idealism, especially that of young people during the 1970s, a time when many on the Left glorified anti-colonial political and social movements in the Third World.  The idealistic young doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, did not want the predictable, comfortable, middle-class life that his medical qualifications facilitated for him in his country of Scotland.  Instead, he was motivated by altruism and a sense of adventure.  He wanted to do good for people in underprivileged communities in the Third World.  The film shows that, unfortunately, this idealism led a young man into the clutches of an evil dictator who exploited his goodwill, naiveté and trust. 

The film expresses an ambivalence regarding the sexual revolution of the 1970s.  The central character, the confident young Dr Garrigan, is someone who could be considered to be a liberated man of his time.  He is keen to seduce women whom he encounters.  The film celebrates the sexual revolution in its depiction of wild parties and exuberance.  However, it also warns the cinema audience that the pursuit of sex can lead to trouble or extreme danger.  It can cause heartbreak for some and even result in others being murdered due to jealous rage.  Sex is shown to lead Dr Garrigan into trouble.  Dr Garrigan meets an attractive African woman whom he beds.  She gives him the wrong impression about Uganda and Idi Amin.  Dr Garrigan also tries to seduce the wife of the medical missionary with whom he initially works.  Her rejection of him prevents the breakup of her marriage and the grief that would have followed. But Dr Garrigan does seduce a married woman, a younger wife of the paranoid, ruthless and murderous dictator Idi Amin. Here, Dr Garrigan is shown to have been playing with fire.  When Idi Amin discovers his wife’s infidelity, he has her murdered and Dr Garrigan tortured.  Dr Garrigan has to flee Uganda for his life. His fate not only conveys to the cinema audience the true nature of an evil dictator and his regime, it also presents them with a warning about the dangers of sexual freedom and misadventure. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Last King of Scotland meaning, The Last King of Scotland themes, The Last King of Scotland analysis, The Last King of Scotland notes