Saturday, 14 April 2012
FILM REVIEW: THE LADY
If you thought that a film about a woman who spends the better part of two decades under house arrest would have limited dramatic appeal, then you thought right.
For although focussing on Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational and courageous leader of Burma's democracy movement, The Lady does a disservice to both its subject and the audience by being uninspired and inert.
Admittedly, French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) seemed like an odd fit for this material from the outset, but most of the problems with this stodgy biopic lie in Rebecca Frayn's screenplay. Frayn hails from a background of writing for television which explains the simplistic and often obvious treatment of both characters and events in The Lady.
Of course, the subject herself has to carry some of the blame. Aung San Suu Kyi (played by Michelle Yeoh) is regarded as a living saint, having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. And therein lies the problem: people don't get to be saints by living colourful, exciting or edgy lives: inspirational doesn't always make for interesting.
Suu Kyi was a London housewife, married to academic Michael Aris (a rumpled David Thewlis), and a mother of two teenage boys, before she returned to her native Burma in the late 1980s; visiting her ailing mother and inadvertently becoming the country's choice as leader for a democratic future (Suu Kyi's father having led Burma to independence from British rule, in 1947, before he was murdered in a military coup that same year).
Naturally, the military rulers of Burma (depicted as either bullies or buffoons throughout), weren't so welcoming of this woman, and after failing to dissuade Suu Kyi from her political aspirations, tried breaking her spirit by preventing her husband and children from entering Burma, and curbing her political influence by placing her under house arrest.
Suu Kyi still managed to win the 1990 general elections, and by a landslide, but that was just the beginning of hers, her family's, and her peoples' woes.
The Lady is more hagiography than biography, making the recent Maggie Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady, look positively hard hitting by comparison. And as aesthetically appropriate as Yeoh is for the role (the film was a passion project for the actress, who learnt to speak Burmese), she's no Meryl Streep; doing little more than acting graceful and dignified. We don't really get to know what makes the heart of this doubtless passionate woman beat.
It's not until the final 15 minutes of the film, with Suu Kyi imprisoned in Burma and her husband dying of prostate cancer in London, that the film finally breaks through its respectful, lifeless facade to give us some real emotion. It's a shame Frayn's screenplay, and Besson's direction couldn't have started at that level and maintained it throughout.
With Aung San Suu Kyi's party winning the most recent by-elections in Burma, now is the perfect time for a film about the lady. But The Lady is not the film which people, with a desire to learn more about Suu Kyi and the Burmese democracy movement, or Aung San Suu Kyi herself deserves.
As it is, The Lady, like Burma's previous attempts at achieving a democratic government, is a slow moving, well-intentioned failure.