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France/United Kingdom 2011
Directed by
Luc Besson
132 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Lady

Synopsis: The story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic head of Burma's pro-democracy movement.

Seeing the title of this film and knowing that Luc Besson is its director you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is a slick thriller about some chic female fantasy figure. So it is with more than a little surprise and much relief to be able to tell you that The Lady is a thoughtful, informative and moving account of a modern day martyr.

Besson is a director who made his name in the 1990s with glossily escapist entertainments like Nikita (1990) and The Fifth Element (1997). He has achieved even greater success since as a producer specializing in high octane action movies. So it’s great to see him putting his skills into a film with limited commercial potential but an important message for us all.

Although good-looking there’s nothing meretricious or salacious about The Lady.  Directorially it’s professionally unobtrusive (bar a clumsy scene towards the film’s end which has Yeoh levitated above a crowd of monks) albeit with a tendency to the sentimental.  This tendency is worryingly evident in its early stages but once the story of Suu Kyi’s politicization begins, any doubts about the substance of the film evaporate.

In the lead Michelle Yeoh, who most will know from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), is marvellous. Meryl Streep’s Maggie Thatcher in recently shown The Iron Lady may be more recognizable but Yeoh’s performance is as good in portraying a very different personality. She not only physically resembles the reed-like Suu Kyi but she captures her quietly dignified resolve without a scintilla of pretension. As Suu Kyi’s devoted husband, a classically English Oxford don, David Thewlis, eschewing his trademark sarcasm, also has a considerable burden to bear and he carries it well. For the film is also the story of the love between this couple and the support it provides to Suu Kyi’s self-abnegating commitment to political freedom for her country. Besson balances the twin themes well and if you do feel the film’s length you are not going to question its integrity.

Although the film is always authentic-looking and evidently closely-researched, scriptwriter Rebecca Frayn’s dialogue tends to be prosaic. Whether this is intentional or not (after all in real life much of what we say is prosaic) I cannot say but this is a film to be seen for what it is about more than for itself. And what it is about is well worth knowing. Aung San Suu Kyi may not have the profile of Nelson Mandela but she is a truly inspirational woman. The Lady brings her and the struggle of her people for self-determination long overdue recognition.




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