London makes a late bow

'Last King' opening marred by delays

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

Although guests were strictly required to be in their seats by 6.45 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start, the speeches began an hour late, without explanation or apology, and then went on interminably before the film itself actually unspooled at 8.30 p.m.

Insiders said the reason for the de-lay was the late arrival of star Forest Whitaker.

And when guests, who had been stuck in the Odeon Leicester Square for four hours with just a small bar of complimentary chocolate for suste-nance, arrived at the after-show party in a marquee in the middle of Berkeley Square, they found lashings of cham-pagne (courtesy of sponsor Moet & Chandon) but just a few trays of canapes to feed the ravenous hordes.

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

Hebron confirmed that the delay had been caused by Whitaker’s late arrival but that there was a valid reason for his lateness, 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, which Ugandan actor Stephen Rwangyezi referred to 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 k.m. higher than it was,” he said.

He also praised the film for not simply presenting dictator Idi Amin as a monster, but showing him 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 original 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 medita-tion on the history and purpose of the festival, topped with a rallying cry for the construction of a new national cinematheque.

The festival continues tonight with the Mayor of London Gala, a screening of Roger Michell’s “Venus.” It closes Nov. 2.

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