We’re getting serious today people. Don’t worry, it won’t happen too often… so bear with me! 

I have a unique perspective on today’s film that I am reviewing, as its a story very close to my heart. ‘The Lady’ starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis is a biographical film based on the life of Aung San Suu Kyi. For those of you that don’t know her, she is the Burmese pro-democracy leader who spent 15 years under house arrest while trying to fight for democracy in a country heavily weighed by oppression due to the many years of military rule. It was a story I knew well as I myself am half Burmese, as my father was born in Northern Burma, in the mountains in a place called Bawdwin. He immigrated when he was just five years old with his nine brothers and sisters, and his mum and dad. Despite the fact that my dad was so young when he left, I very much feel the Burmese part of my heritage thanks to growing up surrounded by Burmese family. It is a part of me that I am very proud of. And so, when I discovered they were making an Aung San Suu Kyi biopic, I was honestly thrilled. I promoted it on every social network site I could in order to raise its profile, as I felt that the more people who watched the film, the more people would be aware of Burma’s plight and therefore there would hopefully be a greater push for change.

Aung San Suu Kyi; The resemblance between her and Michelle Yeoh is quite remarkable.

My expectations therefore were high. And in some ways it meant that I was likely to be disappointed when I finally saw the film. But really, there was only one thing I wanted – it had to do Aung San Suu Kyi justice. Not necessarily her story, as its a story the majority of the world will be familiar with. What I felt was more important, was that they captured Suu’s essence. That they showed her true intent, and the person she was despite the extent of the turmoil she’d gone through. And in some ways this was achieved, however in others – it was not.

‘The Lady’, at its core, is neither a biopic or a pro-democracy film, its a love story. And I can’t really stress this enough. If you go into this film expecting to see Suu in every scene, with a huge emphasis on her time under house arrest, you will be disappointed. Instead, we are shown, through back and forth scenes between both parties, the struggle Suu and her husband, Michael, endured throughout her time fighting for democracy. Why? Well, this is a hollywood style movie, directed by Luc Besson and starring actors who are all too familiar with the big screen. Every movie takes an angle, especially in hollywood, even when that story is true. And so the plight of possibly the greatest living humanitarian turns into a love story. Its not really a decision I agree with in all honesty. However, it was one I expected. I have seen the same thing happen before. Take ‘Hotel Rwanda’ – a film about the Rwandan genocide. It doesn’t really give a full story of what really happened, and hides behind the sheen of hollywood. ‘Sometime in April’ – its low budget, indie counterpart, is a much better film. And I don’t mean this in terms of enjoyment, ‘Sometime in April’ is probably the single most horrific film I’ve ever watched. It literally scarred me for days, and I still think of it often. And as much as it was an unnerving and unpleasant experience, I am grateful for that. Because ‘Sometime in April’ really told the story of the Rwandan genocide. It did what it had to to show the truth, and pull the viewers in so they knew what it felt like to be there. The fear, and the horror seemed to translate so much more strongly than in its Hollywood counterpart.

Burma VJ

Now, I am not a masochist – by any means – but I can’t help feel that a film about such a subject matter, needs to make you hurt. It needs to make you feel helpless and yet empowered all simultaneously. It needs to make you want to act. ‘The Lady’ didn’t do that. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very well made film. Michelle Yeoh is absolutely stunning throughout the film, and she gives the performance of her life. David Thewlis is so effortless in transforming into Michael, Suu’s husband, that you believe every ounce of pain that is etched on his face. And their scenes together look like they came together with ease, which just helps translate the love the pair had for each other. And there are moments throughout the story where you can’t help feel real pain, and even tears. However, ‘The Lady’ is a movie of two halves. The first half shows us Suu’s beginnings, and rather the endings of her father – Aung San, a leading figure in Burma who achieved independence. It then cuts to her life, with her two boys and Michael in Oxford, England. It is only when her mother has a stroke does she return, and driven by the atrocities she witnesses while visiting her mother in Rangoon, she begins on her long road to democracy, leading to several powerful scenes including Suu’s first speech announcing her leadership of the NLD, and a scene where she stands up against a row of heavily armed soldiers when they stop her meeting. However, eventually, the film becomes more about Suu and Michael than it is about Burma. In fact, the penultimate scene shows Suu reacting to the news of Michael’s death – a scene very well acted by Yeoh I might add. It is this fact that hallmarks ‘The Lady’ as a love story.

Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi, confronting some Junta soldiers.

I would personally have liked more of Suu’s political story and less of her relationship with Michael. I am in no way belittling their plight – the personal sacrifices she made for the benefit of her country and her people are ones I doubt many could make in her place. And it was an important part of her story. However, I felt there was something missing by the end of the film. And thus I was left disappointed.

That being said, the rating of this film depends on Luc Besson’s intentions. If this was meant to be a love story than he did a very good job. If this was supposed to be a biopic and tale of the oppression in Burma, than a lot is left lacking.

So should you see this film? Yes. Despite its downfalls, it does give a good view of the sort of woman Suu is, and a picture of the plight she has overcome. And it may teach you a few things you didn’t know about the 1991 Nobel Peace prize winner a long the way. But, if its a true view of Burma that you want – watch ‘Burma VJ’ – the documentary made by Burmese video journalists despite the danger weighing on them.

To conclude, ‘The Lady’ is a film that could have been so much more. However, I believe it does achieve what it set out to do. And for me, it does capture the essence of Suu Kyi, and that was all I asked, if nothing else. To be frank, I applaud any film that raises the profile of the political situation in Burma. However, it is important to remember that ‘The Lady’ is the Hotel Rwanda to ‘Burma VJ’s’ ‘Sometime in April’.

8/10

NB. I do urge you however to watch either ‘The Lady’ or ‘Burma VJ’. It is always good to educate ourselves about what is going on around the world, whether that be a Hollywood version or the truth straight from the horses mouth. And given the low level of journalistic coverage in Burma in the last two decades, its important to see the truth. Please check out both trailers below.

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