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The Lady (Michelle Yeoh) - DVD Review

The Lady

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

AT A time when critics were talking about awards for Meryl Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady it seemed almost remiss for them to have forgotten Michelle Yeoh as pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in The Lady.

While certainly not a perfect film, Yeoh’s sensitive portrayal of the Burmese politician who was held under house arrest in her home country for 18 years, thereby sacrificing her marriage to an Englishman, is every bit as good.

What’s more, it’s enhanced by Luc Besson’s direction, which while certainly open to accusations of being ponderous in places, still manages to treat the subject matter with the respect and sensitivity it deserves.

Far from being a merely political film, The Lady also serves as a love story between the two married people in question: San Suu and her husband, Michael Aris (played by David Thewlis).

Unfolding from the perspectives of both, the film chronicles how the couple remained loyal to each other despite being separated for so long, even to the point at which Michael knew he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was forbidden from re-entering Burma to say farewell.

It also juxtaposes this intimate, personal story with the wider political scene, as San Suu quietly sought to overturn an oppressive regime while Michael sought international aid and awareness from the outside (even managing to secure his wife the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991).

Yeoh is a study in grace and determination, imbuing her portrayal with the dignity and silent heartbreak that must have informed much of her existence. She’s a captivating presence and it’s clear that the role was a labour of love for her.

But Thewlis is also excellent both at tapping into the admiration he has for his wife’s views and political stance as well as the frustrations and anxieties he has in dealing with the Burmese authorities and his own failing health.

Hence, while Besson’s film may be flawed in some regards, his direction does at least provide a suitable platform for both of his leads to shine, while also capturing the beauty of Asia (albeit filmed from across the border in Thailand).

If there are problems with the film, then the somewhat simplistic nature of the depiction of Burma’s politicians is disappointing, given that their portrayal owes more to bog-standard movie villainy than anything that really exposes the iron grip with which they ruled at the height of their power.

The pacing is also too slow at times, interrupting the film’s momentum, while there’s also room for a little more authority in some of its own views (as things sometimes appear too polite and careful not to offend).

But in the final analysis, it’s Yeoh and Thewlis you’ll remember most from the movie, which is how it should be.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 132mins
UK DVD Release: April 23, 2012