In this excellent Anglo-French production, director Luc Besson has chosen to tell the story of Aung San Suu Kyi through the experience of her marriage to Oxford academic Michael Aris (an intelligent and sensitive performance by David Thewlis). The film explores the heartache of a family life characterised by long separations due to Suu's choice to commit her life first and foremost to democracy and civil rights in her native Burma, and the resultant choices and sacrifices which both agree to endure for the cause.
What might in the hands of a less skilled director have turned into a political polemic, or worse, a worthy but uninvolving biopic, has become under Besson's skilled direction a truly great film with a strong storyline and real emotional power. The action see-saws between Suu's struggles against the regime in Burma and Michael's safe, suburban academic life in Oxford, highlighting his unquestioning support for her decision even though it means she is absent from her children growing through adolescence, and of course from him. Whilst stopping short of doing Suu actual harm because her high public profile would bring down the outrage of the international community, the military regime does everything possible to make her leave Burma `voluntarily' - but she refuses to go, knowing that if she were to leave, new laws would be framed by the regime to ensure she would never be allowed back and she could be far less effective outside the country.
The audience is not spared graphic images of the horrors perpetrated by the Burmese regime. The violence however is in no way gratuitous, but essential to the action and to the story. The less well-known struggles of Michael in the background - bringing up the teenage boys on his own, lobbying for his wife to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to attract international news coverage & so add a layer of protection for her, missing her but uncomplaining - are well portrayed by Thewlis, whose performance is noble, intelligent and understated, and capped off by his brief cameos as Michael's identical-twin brother.
Michelle Yeoh remains the shining star of the film. Her portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi runs the full gamut of the emotional spectrum while remaining noble and dignified in the face of ever-mounting indignities. She also learned Burmese (!) for the role, delivering Suu's public speeches in front of large crowds in the Burmese language with utter conviction. You will believe absolutely that Yeoh is Aung San Suu Kyi, clearly understanding the difficult choices she made and their consequences.
The film would be worth five stars just for Yeoh's stellar performance, but in fact `The Lady' is a finely crafted and emotionally involving film with no weak performances. Recommended.