In The Lady, French-Canadian director Luc Besson begins his take on human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) with the diagnosis of her husband’s prostate cancer back in England.
At this point, Daw Suu (as she is now widely known) is in Burma, leading the pro-democracy struggle. So it’s clear from the get-go that this movie will counterpoint private inclination with public duty. Will she return to her sons and worsening Oxford don Michael Aris (David Thewlis) or tough it out in Burma?
As the military junta waits impatiently to steamroller the political gain achieved at such great cost by Daw Suu and her fellow combatants, we glimpse a powerful, multi-dimensional dilemma that’s given extra urgency by Aris’ illness.
Having set the scene for polyvalence, however, Besson submits to the pull of history and the place justly occupied in it by this astonishing woman: Daw Suu as the child of politically active parents, as a leader in the making and Nobel Peace Prize winner in absentia.
But his reconfirmation of the historical personality distracts us from the private dilemma that’s meant to flesh out the public image. Instead of tension, there is compromise. Perhaps the relationship between Daw Suu and Aris was as schematic as it sometimes feels in this film – not unlikely, given the circumstances. As the movie’s launching pad, however, it can’t quite take the strain of its protagonist’s story.
The Lady (Ein geteiltes Herz) | Directed by Luc Besson (France/UK 2011), with Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis. Starts Apr 5