The Lady, Luc Besson’s handsome biopic about Aung San Suu Kiy (Michelle Yeoh), may be largely a dramatic dud, but there are a couple compelling reasons to watch it. The saga of Burma’s Joan of Arc (recently triumphant) transcends pedestrian filmmaking, and one is grateful for Besson’s honorable, if undistinguished, effort to commemorate this Nobel Peace Prize winner’s decades-long stand against her homeland’s brutal military regime. What impact The Lady has comes mostly from the Zen-like beauty and radiance of Yeoh, and the dotty authenticity of David Thewlis, playing Suu Kiy’s steadfast British husband, Michael Aris.
The movie opens with Suu Kiy’s dad, who has just helped free his country from British rule, regaling his 3-year-old daughter with magical stories about the golden land that once was Burma, resplendent with tigers, elephants and sunshine. Then Aung San drives off to hammer out plans for democratizing the newly independent nation. When pistol-brandishing soldiers crash the party, Aung San closes his eyes and leans into his death, armored in a martyr’s calm. Many years later, in a very similar crisis, his daughter will reprise that expression of unyielding tranquility.
When we first meet the grown-up Suu Kiy, she’s an unprepossessing Oxford University academic and housewife, off to care for her ailing mother in Rangoon. She’s barely had time to register bloodied protestors and summary street executions before activist students and their profs begin streaming into her home — and suddenly the visiting housewife’s tapped as Burma’s savior.
These momentous events slide swiftly by on some remote plane, sans any credible dramatic development or soul-searching on Suu Kiy’s part. Even when the woman who’s never before spoken in public mounts a platform and the camera tilts up to reveal a horizon-spanning crowd, the punch gets pulled; what should be a terrific emotional rush is muted, almost perfunctory.