Apr 172012


The real-life story of Aung San Suu Kyi is a powerful and inspirational [on-going] tale. Does the film do the story justice? Check out our review of The Lady after the jump.

The Lady opens by showing us a tender moment between father and a very young Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh). Soon after the general is killed, and Burma is taken over by a ruthless and murderous military regime. The rest of the film is focused on the time period between 1988 when Suu Kyi’s mother becomes ill and she returns to Burma from England (where she had been living), and 1999 when her husband Michael Aris passes away. It focuses on two key story-lines – one is Suu Kyi’s rise to prominence as a political figure in Burma and her subsequent house arrest; while the second story-line focuses on the relationship between Suu Kyi and her husband Michael.


The film flicks between Suu Kyi in Burma, and the generally mundane everyday lives of her family back in England. Although Suu Kyi is under house-arrest for almost the entirety of the time period the film focuses on, we never get much of a sense of her isolation. Instead the film focuses on the difficulty that the family has in both staying in contact (there are a least a dozen scenes showing the phone cutting out mid-conversation), and in seeing each other. During the period of isolation, the family was only allowed to see each other a handful of times. Due to the episodic nature of the film, the constant dropped calls/visits to embassy/conversations about visas becomes extremely repetitive, and it’s hard to feel any anguish for the family, as the characters don’t display much themselves for most of the film.

The film does offer an interesting insight into the politics of a country that many will not know much about. It is interesting to watch Suu Kyi’s rise in Burmese politics and the military regime’s reactions to her. Some of the early demonstration scenes are quite shocking, and do give us a good sense of the horror and violence that was inflicted on the Burmese people. Most of the dialogue spoken by the Burmese characters (including the military leaders) is actually spoken in Burmese. This is a welcome change from films set in foreign countries where everyone magically speaks English. Sadly this  is not consistent, and there are some really odd interactions between Burmese characters that are carried out entirely in disjointed English.


Disappointingly any of the interesting insight and emotion that the film gives us is cancelled out by the lack of care and attention paid to the characters. The Burmese military officials are particularly problematic. While they are supposed to come across as cold and ruthless, they actually appear to be quite comical and are nothing but parodies of evil military leaders. Scenes which should be tense instead come across as a bit of a joke – the general bangs his fist down on the desk in theatrical way so many times that it is utterly absurd. Suu Kyi’s children are also an issue as there is absolutely no depth to them. The film depicts them as perfect young men who adore their mother and are rather reserved. While this may be the case, in the film it comes across as lifeless and not genuine. For character’s that have almost nothing to say, they are given far too much screen-time.

Michelle Yeoh is wonderfully cast in this role, but unfortunately she is never given much of an opportunity to show anything more than a surface-level glance at Suu Kyi. The film is very much told from the outside looking in, and doesn’t really offer a lot of insight into her inner-thoughts or emotions. While the film does have some heart in the final twenty minutes, it is for the most part flat and lacks any real emotion. It is a real shame that the incredible story of this amazing woman has been treated with such ambivalence and lack of care.


The Facts

Director: Luc Besson
Writer(s): Rebecca Frayn
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett
Runtime: 132 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 19th 2012; New Zealand: no date set; USA: April 11th 2012 (limited)