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London fest’s late for ‘Last King’

Delayed pic screening buffered by speeches

LONDON — A strong opening movie was let down by poor organization as the Times BFI London Film Festival kicked off its 50th edition Wednesday night with the U.K. premiere of Kevin Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland.”

Although guests were required to be in their seats by 6:45 for a 7 p.m. start, the speeches began an hour late, without explanation or apology, and then went on interminably before the film unspooled at 8:30.

Insiders said the reason for the delay was the late arrival of star Forest Whitaker.

And when ravenous guests (who’d been stuck in the Odeon Leicester Square for four hours with just a small bar of complimentary chocolate for sustenance) arrived at the after-show party in a marquee in the middle of Berkeley Square, they found an abundance of champagne (courtesy of sponsor Moet & Chandon) but just a few trays of canapes.

“There are things that were not as we would have wanted them to be, but it’s not that there wasn’t enough advance planning, because there was,” fest director Sandra Hebron said. “But unfortunately, if something happens to throw those plans out of kilter, it has a lot of knock-on effects.”

Hebron confirmed the delay had been caused by Whitaker’s detainment but said there was a valid reason for his late arrival, although she declined to say what that reason was.

Such uncharacteristic slackness made some wags wonder if the whole event had been infected by the elastic concept of Ugandan time, to which Ugandan actor Stephen Rwangyezi referred in his speech describing the making of the movie.

Rwangyezi thanked Macdonald and their producers for their decision to shoot “The Last King of Scotland” in his country, where the story is set, but where no movie had ever been shot before. “You left Uganda 100 kilometers higher than it was,” he said.

He also praised the film for not presenting dictator Idi Amin simply as a monster but as the product of complex post-colonial circumstances.

There were also speeches from BFI director Amanda Nevill, chairman Anthony Minghella, Times editor Robert Thomson, Hebron and “Last King” producers Lisa Bryer, Charles Steel and Andrea Calderwood. Macdonald then introduced his cast — Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, David Oyelowo, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney and Rwangyezi, plus scriptwriter Peter Morgan and the author of the novel, Giles Foden.

Although each speech was elegant and well judged in its own right, the cumulative effect was too much for an audience already weary from waiting.

Apart from Rwangyezi’s moving and witty words, highlight was Minghella’s typically inspirational meditation on the history and purpose of the festival, topped by a rallying cry for the construction of a new national cinematheque.

Fest closes Nov. 2.

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