Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis
With Aung San Suu Kyi back in the headlines, now as an elected politician in Myanmar and on a historic world tour (the first time she has left the country in more than two decades), the arrival of Luc Besson's emotional biopic seems somewhat poignant. There may be talk of reforms in a land trapped under military rule since 1962, but The Lady - which began production during Suu Kyi's two decade-long house arrest - helps bring to emotional light 10 tumultuous years in the life of one of Myanmar's most recognised figures.
Starting in a damp Oxford via a series of flashbacks, Luc Besson's biopic - based on a screenplay by Rebecca Frayn - sees Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) and her floppy-haired, British academic husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis) living a somewhat ordinary family life with their two teenage sons.
But within just a few scenes, it's turned upside down. Returning to her native Myanmar (then Burma) in 1988 to care for her elderly mother (the wife of the late Aung San, who famously led the country out of colonial rule), Suu Kyi finds herself quickly embroiled in the independence movement as the military steps up a bloody crackdown against protesters. Seeing the opportunity for a figurehead with a national legacy, the opposition leaders turn to "Auntie Suu". And, as anyone with a splash of historical knowledge will already know, it's a role she will go on to dedicate her entire life to, with unimaginable sacrifices made along the way, and one for which she received a Nobel Peace Prize.
Rather than an overtly political film, The Lady is the story of these sacrifices, and largely exists as a love story between Suu Kyi and Aris as they attempt to maintain a relationship thousands of miles apart, with house arrests, almost non-existent phone contact and a vindictive military government blocking their every move. We see Aris push for Suu Kyi's Nobel Prize award, a ceremony she can't attend. But the most tear-jerking moments are saved for later, when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, leaving Suu Kyi to choose between her family and her country.
Shot largely in Thailand, not far from the Myanmar border, where a replica of Suu Kyi's house was built, The Lady is an ambitious project that sadly doesn't warrant its two-plus hours running time. Despite remarkable performances by Yeoh and Thewlis, the film suffers from the awe Besson clearly has for his subject. A dawdling pace and often clunky, excruciatingly melodramatic script don't help either.
But with Suu Kyi campaigning for democracy once more, The Lady serves as a piece of good background material on one of today's most iconic figures.
For an interview with director Luc Besson and more on The Lady, read Arts&Life on Sunday