Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Lady vanishes in schmaltzy epic

Sadly this overlong biopic about icon Aung San Suu Kyi fails to do her justice, says Damon Smith

Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Woodhouse, Jonathan Raggett, Htun Lin, Agga Poechit, Benedict Wong, Marian Yu, Director: Luc Besson

Truth may be stranger than fiction but it's seldom more entertaining, especially when projected onto a big screen at 24 frames per second.

The Lady is an epic love story based on the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Burmese political activist, who lived under house arrest for more than 15 years during the time her National League for Democracy party triumphed in national elections.

She was under guard when her husband lost his valiant battle against prostate cancer and in November 2010, when she was finally released, Kyi had not seen her children for 10 years.

Screenwriter Rebecca Frayn interviewed the people closest to Kyi and, over the course of three years, she crafted the script for this fascinating tale of one woman's brave stand against the military junta in Burma.

Unfortunately, documented fact doesn't lend itself particularly well to exhilarating cinema.

Kyi's enforced isolation from acolytes and the media results in repetitive scenes of lead actress Michelle Yeoh shedding tears in close-up as Burma's national heroine makes telephone calls back home to learn the fate of her loved ones.

For long periods of the picture, there is no physical contact between Yeoh and David Thewlis as Michael, Kyi's ferociously loyal husband, starving the central romance of oxygen and threatening to extinguish any sparks of on-screen chemistry.

A prologue set in 1947 Rangoon documents the death of Kyi's father, Burmese nationalist leader Gen Aung San, during negotiations to form a new government.

By 1988, Kyi is a housewife living in Oxford with her husband Michael , a university lecturer in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, and their two children, Alexander (Jonathan Woodhouse) and Kim (Jonathan Raggett).

When news reaches Kyi of the ailing health of her mother Daw Khin Kyi (Marian Yu), she flies to Burma and becomes embroiled in the national uprising.

"Not all historians get to be a part of history in the making. You must enjoy your ringside seat," a colleague tells Michael as his wife opts to stay in Burma and spearhead the pro-democracy movement.

In retaliation, the Burmese government denies Michael and the boys entry visas, hoping that Kyi will leave the country to be with her loved ones.

"A tree whose roots have been cut off will fall by itself," surmises scheming General Ne Win (Htun Lin). However, he underestimates Kyi's unwavering resolve.

The Lady is an overlong dramatisation of a page from recent history, which shamelessly tugs our heartstrings under Luc Besson's pedestrian direction.

Yeoh and Thewlis deliver rousing performances, but the accompanying film-making is ponderous and uninspired, peppered with cryptic musings on the human condition.

Screenwriter Frayn and the lead actors certainly keep on trying, but their efforts amount to little more than a chocolate box re-imagining of Kyi's remarkably selfless and idealistic crusade.

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