out of Five
Running time: 137
The story of Aung San Suu Kyi's imprisonment is genuinely appalling and deserves to be told, but this is a disappointing drama that's badly let down by a shockingly pedestrian script and thinly sketched characters that never really come to life.
What's it all about?
Directed by Luc Besson (Nikita, Adele Blanc-Sec), The Lady is based on the true story of Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh), who endured a 15 year detainment by the military junta, despite being elected to power in the 1990 elections. After a brief prologue in which Suu Kyi's democracy-seeking father is murdered by a military squad, the film flashes forward 40 years and finds Suu Kyi living in Oxford with her academic husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis) and their two teenage sons (Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse).
However, when Suu Kyi's mother falls ill, she travels to Burma to be with her and decides to stay in Rangoon when she's prevailed upon by political activists to continue her father's struggle for democracy. Fearful of turning her into a martyr like her father, General Ne Win (Htun Lin) instead has her imprisoned in her own home, cutting her off from both family and friends and refusing to release her even after she wins the election.
Yeoh radiates serenity as Suu Kyi, but the script never gives her enough to work with and her character is frustratingly ill-defined as a result. Similarly, Thewlis looks desperately uncomfortable (especially when he also crops up as Michael's slightly chubbier twin brother Anthony) and resorts to doing what is more or less a Jim Broadbent impression (or rather two Jim Broadbent impressions).
The script is shockingly pedestrian and the dialogue is painfully clunky throughout – you could actually fashion a fairly effective drinking game based purely on the number of times Suu or Michael say each other's names. Similarly, Besson's decision to turn Suu Kyi's ordeal into a tragic love story (an early scene establishes that Michael has terminal cancer) falls flat because there's zero chemistry between the two leads to begin with (we're also denied any background on how they fell in love in the first place).
Quite apart from anything else, having established the potential for a tear-jerking finale, Besson doesn't even bother to deliver the requisite emotional climax, leaving the film feeling like neither one thing (real-life political drama) nor the other (tragic love story).
Despite the actors' best efforts, The Lady is a disappointing drama that fails to do justice to its undeniably powerful true story thanks to a truly terrible script.