Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspirational and influential figure in history. Her struggle against the military dictatorship’s strangle hold in Burma that illuminated the horrendous and genocidal behaviour to the globe (and invariably curbed it) is an amazing story. Such an amazing story, combined with great acting talent in David Thewlis and the Aung San Suu Kyi (Suu) doppelganger Michelle Yeoh; and renowned French filmmaker Luc Besson are all elements that made me enter with notably high expectations. Unfortunately some of the directorial and stylistic choices really hinder the overall film.
The Lady follows the life of Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeo) daughter of a Burmese Freedom fighter who returns from abroad to become the core of Burma’s democracy movement, and her relationship with her husband, English writer/intellectual Michael Aris (David Thewlis) that supported her cause.
Michelle Yeoh provides a striking performance, inhabiting Suu’s gestures, voice and manner to disconcerting perfection. When her cause is in full swing Yeoh shines; she’s a zen like delicate flower that calms the potential carnage. The flaws in her performance are evident in the direction. There is one moment where Besson has her reacting to some very bad news that should have been edited out of the film, it felt like a bad take that was left in the film.
David Thewlis is the star of The Lady. He effortlessly embodies Michael Aris (and his twin brother) so that his imposing figure and ‘strut’ from previous performances is removed completely. Aris lives and breathes with Thewlis’ all encompassing chameleon effort – and the ‘action’ and political machinations in England are all because of his unyielding effort. He’s really anchors the audience to what becomes an increasingly surreal experience for Suu.
Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional) has jumped back in the director’s chair after a long hiatus to direct this ‘passion project’ and unfortunately he’s unable to provide the necessary style to engage the audience with a story that takes place (for the most part) while the lead character is under house arrest. The very plain direction of people having phone conversation after phone conversation, in the same locations, using the same kind of shot compositions make what should be highlighting the torture of house arrest and being separated from your family into “when are these people going to get OFF the phone?!?!?”
The Lady doesn’t do justice to the amazing life and democratic crusade of Aung San Suu Kyi despite excellent performances of David Thewlis and Michelle Yeoh.
and a half
Directed: Luc Besson
Written by: Rebecca Frayn (screenplay)
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis and Jonathan Raggett