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For somebody so famous, it is amazing that it has taken until now for somebody to take on the monumental task of bringing Aung San Suu Kyi’s achievements to the big screen. Fortunately for French director Luc Besson, the timing is right to shed the light on Burma’s pro-democracy leader, or at least a portion of her impact.
This is the story outlining the sacrifices made by both Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband, Michael Aris, for not only each other, but for an ideal; democracy in Burma, a concept initially introduced by Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, before his assassination in 1947. Fast forward to 1988 in England, where Suu Kyi lives with her husband, academic Michael Aris, and their two children Alexander and Kim. A phone call from Burma informing Suu Kyi of her mother’s frail health results in her return to Rangoon, as the military are brutally suppressing a student uprising. When Suu Kyi sees first-hand how members of the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) ruthlessly kill innocent civilians, she finds herself becoming the leader of the democratic movement, carrying on the ideals her father believed in. However, the more popular she becomes amongst the people of Burma, the more determined the military leaders become to rub her out, firstly through house arrest and by cutting off communication with the outside world.
Michelle Yeoh stars as Aung San Suu Kyi, and brings the grace and courage required to the role of Aung San Suu Kyi as an inspirational political figure. She is equally comfortable in conversing in Burmese as in English. David Thewlis is equally as convincing in his role as the supporting husband who works frantically behind the scenes to lobby diplomats for her release from house arrest, while also showing the frailties of raising two teenage boys.
While the story is largely based on the connections between Suu Kyi and Aris and the love that binds them, the underlying themes highlighting the inhumane treatment faced by pro-democracy supporters is enough to bring shame on the international community for standing back and watching the Burmese Army crush its own people. To see images of innocent people thrown into cages besides vicious dogs inside Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison, as well as people dragged off the street for simply attending National League for Democracy rallies during election and become mine porters for the Burmese Army is gut-wrenching. These scenes are well-relayed by Besson, but he also manages to excel in the more delicate moments, namely Suu Kyi listening to a BBC radio broadcast of her son accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf. But the moment which Yeoh best demonstrates Suu Kyi’s courage is her refusal to be intimidated by the military, walking directly into the fire of several armed soldiers ready to fire. Yeoh’s interpretation of this crucial event displays the determination and grace that is a hallmark of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Lady is a poignant account of two individuals who have given everything to a land where peace is long overdue. It also provides dignity to the people of Burma. Watch this film to be inspired by an outstanding woman whose life work has met and overcome extraordinary obstacles, but will only be complete when the long-held military myth of “might is right” is buried forever.