The good intentions that pave the way of this tribute to the Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi are sadly undermined by its galumphing methods. Luc Besson's film could scarcely be more slavish in its devotion to the lady and to her principles of non-violent resistance, but slavishness is no tinder for a drama – it's a retardant.
Michelle Yeoh has the gentle demeanour and noble cheekbones of Suu Kyi, who is about to lead her country into democratic light when a brutal military junta steps in to shut it down, placing her under house arrest and dispatching her many supporters to prison, or worse. David Thewlis plays her husband, Michael Aris, an Oxford academic who frets away months, years, of enforced separation back in England, raising their two sons while waiting for news.
The poignancy of his vigil is compounded when he is diagnosed with cancer, and the question of whether Suu Kyi will return to see him before he dies is agonisingly pondered. I'm afraid it's agonising in a different way for the audience, subjected to dialogue so stilted and inhuman it seems to have passed through several translations, all equally inept. Writer Rebecca Frayn was allegedly mortified by Besson's hijacking of her screenplay: she's right to be. Hardly a line is spoken that doesn't clunk, and the film's refusal to portray Aung San Suu Kyi as anything less than a saint is disastrous, in the same way that Eastwood's biopic of Nelson Mandela was. Portraits require shade not just for authenticity but for interest's sake. This hagiography wants only to blind us – insistently, boringly – with a sanctified light.