The Lady, Luc Besson, 127 mins

2.00

 

Luc Besson may once have been an acclaimed auteur, but in recent years he’s spent his time writing and producing half-witted celebrations of racist violence. So if you were looking for someone to direct a film about a Nobel Peace Prize-winning democracy campaigner, Besson would probably be just below Michael Winner on the list.

Nonetheless, The Lady, a biopic of Burma’s iconic Aung San Suu Kyi, does start much like any other Besson movie. It opens in Rangoon in 1947, with Suu Kyi as a young girl, frolicking happily in the sunshine with her beloved dad. After one last significant glance over his shoulder, he then goes off to a meeting where he raises a toast to Burma’s democratic future, only to be murdered in a hail of gunfire two seconds later. In most Besson films, that would be Suu Kyi’s cue to go into hiding, and to emerge 20 years later as a sexy, knife-throwing assassin, but even though she’s played as an adult by Michelle Yeoh, a former Bond girl and Jackie Chan sidekick, that doesn’t quite happen. Indeed, there’s a surprising lack of scenes in which she stabs someone with a hairpin and then throws them through a window in slow-motion.

Instead, Suu Kyi’s story picks up in 1988, when she’s the housewife of a tweedy Oxford don, Michael Aris (David Thewlis). She doesn’t have any political ambitions, but as the daughter of Aung San, who negotiated Burma’s independence, she has great symbolic value, so when the junta sets about massacring student protesters, she consents to put herself forward as an opposition leader. Her initially successful campaign leads to her being confined to her family home in Rangoon, a house arrest which would last, with brief breaks, from 1989 to 2010.

Besson presents all this in the reverential, blandly informative style of a daytime TV movie, flooding every scene with muzak, and never showing Suu Kyi to be anything other than a saintly model of elegance and dignity. If she has any doubts about the choices she’s made, Rebecca Frayn’s script dismisses them in a sentence or two. If she has any gifts as a strategist or an orator, we don’t see them. And if she holds any political views, beyond the notion that oppression is a bad thing, we don’t hear them. Suu Kyi is serenity incarnate, while her opponents are insanely superstitious tinpot generals who shoot their own lieutenants whenever the mood takes them. Ironically enough, when a biopic is this superficial and hagiographic, it’s usually a propaganda film sponsored by a fascist dictator.

In fact, Besson’s film is more about the Gentleman than the Lady. Suu Kyi seems to pass most of her internment playing Pachelbel’s Canon on the piano, but her husband is much busier back in Oxford, raising their two teenage sons, pushing for her to be acknowledged by the Nobel committee, and soldiering on even after he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. Thewlis paints a lovely portrait of courage and English reserve, and Aris’s selfless devotion to his wife does translate into a few moving minutes towards the end. But Yeoh and Thewlis have so few scenes together, and register so little emotion during those scenes, that the enforced separation never seems too painful. Besson and Frayn have turned the struggles of a Nobel Prize Winner into a romantic tragedy of soulmates divided, but even on that level The Lady is too measured to bother the tear ducts. I must confess, I was sort-of hoping that Jason Statham would turn up with an assault rifle, as he so often does when Besson is around.

NEXT WEEK: Nicholas Barber sees Mother And Child, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the child of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee