Movie Review: “The Lady”—Boring Bloody Biopics

Written by Brent Holmes July 19, 2012


Aung San Suu Kyi is the democratically elected leader of Burma, who spent most of the past 20 years under house arrest by the Burmese military dictatorship. If you knew this already from a source other than Bono then pat yourself on the back. “The Lady” stars Michelle Yeoh as Aung Sun Suu Kyi and randomly covers her political career as she is motivated to run for office in the Burmese election, put under house arrest, and momentarily released.

A Singing Bird in an Open Cage

The biggest problem with “The Lady” is how utterly disjointed it is. Since the film covers most of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political career, it jumps across multiple times and drags on for 2 1/2 hours with no clear direction. It would have benefitted from focusing on a specific point, rather than Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s entire life.

Director Luc Besson could have easily focused on her house arrest, her political campaign, or her relationship with her husband, Dr. Aries (David Thewlis) and presented a clear portrait. Focusing on all sides of her life creates a confusing and unremarkable plot, and it doesn’t do much for her character either.

Since Director Luc Besson is aiming for an all-encompassing biography, then the lack of different elements of Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s character is a massive failure; Michelle Yeoh’s performance is one-dimensional and bland. When Aung Sun Suu Kyi says to her husband that she is angry, impatient, and stubborn, the only real flaw the audience can understand through those comments is false modesty as she has never been shown as anything but a saint.


Mrs. Smith Goes to Rancoon

There are parts of this film that just don’t make sense. The Burmese government is allegedly one of the worst human rights offenders in the world, yet there is not much to justify the title. The dictator, whose importance is so great that his name is never even mentioned, can only seem to wring his hands and curse “I’ll get you next time, gadget” throughout the course of the film. Halfway through, this character disappears entirely, along with the name of the actor who played him.It doesn’t help that Aung San Suu Kyi and her family seem to be oblivious to the danger they are facing from the military. If the film portrays the military as a comic book villain, then Aung San Suu Kyi is Eddard Stark.

There is also a pointless sequence where Dr. Aris is at the English embassy photocopying pamphlets for his wife’s political campaign; the military seem to be closing in, and the music is tense suggesting that something is about to happen, but then the whole operation goes off without any trouble.

The Burmese Candidate

The film doesn’t really cover any of what Aung Sun Suu Kyi did before running for election. As a result, everything in this film seems to be undermined by the fact that if the military had called in Stephen Harper’s campaign team they would have had their whole problem with Aung San Suu Kyi under control—all they would have to do is run a few attack ads citing her lack of understanding of Burmese issues, how she is inheriting her dad’s legacy, and her (seemingly) occasional trouble with the language. If people in Canada are thick enough to buy it, a dictatorship should be able to pull this off.


Part of the problem with biopics is the fact that the main subject of the film is often the least interesting character. Aung San Suu Kyi’s children, husband, or even her guards when she is under house arrest would provide a much more interesting viewpoint, elevating the film from bland biopic to something much stronger. As it stands, “The Lady” is a 2 1/2 hour directionless film that doesn’t pack a powerful enough punch despite its wealth of material. It’s tame enough that high school kids could watch it to learn about peacekeeping, but as of right now the only person to do Aung San Suu Kyi’s life story justice artistically has been Bono.

 My Rating: 3/10 

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About Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a Film Studies and English Major attending Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario where he is working towards a PhD in Film Studies. He currently writes for We Eat Films and The Western Gazette (on the latter, he serves as Arts & Life editor).

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