The Lady is an emotional powerhouse of a movie, a lengthy, moving biopic about Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her struggle to bring peace to a Burma ruled by a cruel and inhumane regime. Acclaimed French director Luc Besson, famed for films featuring strong female characters such as La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, challenges himself here by stepping out of his comfort zone and drawing on all of his experience in order to persuasively communicate the less action-orientated material (aside from an early bullet-riddled scene that packs a punch).
A big part of The Lady’s success is Michelle Yeoh’s ardent performance as the stubborn Suu Kyi. Just as Meryl Streep was the right choice to portray Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Yeoh pulling off Suu Kyi on the big screen. It’s not just the physical resemblance either (which is admittedly quite uncanny), as Yeoh has so perfected her English lilt and mimicry that the line between onscreen character and real life individual is blurred. There’s only a hint of fragility in her performance, emerging in those scenes when personal desires are sacrificed against broader pro-democracy convictions in the realm of Burmese societal and political reform.
It also helps that this is one of those films that just happened to come out at the right time. It’s topical, in that it was only recently announced on the 1st of April that Suu Kyi had won the vote for a seat in Burma’s Parliament. Furthermore, as someone currently studying a course in human rights law, I found the film much more engaging and emotionally impactful than I otherwise would have. Yes, the film is documentary-like and safe in its competent but by-the-numbers biographical approach to Suu Kyi’s ongoing story, yet it has a heart to it that something like The Iron Lady, which was drearily depressing and misguided in focus, sorely lacked.
While the screenplay does sideline Suu Kyi’s story somewhat by skewing personal and focussing on her bond with her husband and two sons, it remains compelling thanks to a remarkable love story stretching continents, imprisonment and years of social and political turmoil. This, at least, is more tactful than Thatcher declining in her ailing years. Moreover, Suu Kyi’s husband Michael Aris is played with tweedy exuberance and learned understanding by David Thewlis (Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films). It’s a strong performance as devoted soulmate, and he even steals scenes from Yeoh when they’re together.
In and around this romance however, Burma’s struggles are not ignored. Indeed, there’s something to be said about certain human rights violations that goes to the core of the human condition. Make no mistake, throughout The Lady there were several scenes that depicted gross, heartless acts which I knew were just deeply, profoundly wrong. I guess it goes some way to showing that truth can be stranger than fiction, and that there are real people – real heroes – doing the incredible to defeat the devils you don’t know but ought to.
A topical, moving biopic about the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her enduring bond with her husband and two sons.