Blu-Ray Review: The Lady – A Career Best Performance From Michelle Yeoh
Luc Besson’s biopic of Burmese pro-democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi featuring a career best performance from Michelle Yeoh and an excellent supporting turn from David Thewlis is released on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
French director Luc Besson is no stranger to taking on epic biopics featuring strong female characters. Having already tackled the story of Joan Of Arc with mixed results in 1999 it comes as no real surprise that he was willing to have another go when Chinese superstar Michelle Yeoh approached him with a timely project covering the life story of Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. As The Lady is released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK this week here is our review. The Lady tells the story of Burmas troubled democracy movement and the woman who found herself at its centre. The daughter of a revolutionary, Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) returns to her homeland of Burma from her stable life in Oxford, England with her loving husband Michael Aris (David Thewlis) when her mother falls ill. Enduring the everyday violence of an oppressive military regime Suu Kyi rises to lead the fight for democracy becoming a symbol of hope and inspiration for the Burmese people. However her relationship suffers unimaginable strain when she is forced into house arrest and she has to make a choice between her love for her family and her commitment to her country. Holding the whole film together is an emotionally charged central performance from Michelle Yeoh. She is transformed, capturing the regal elegance, nobility and charm of Suu Kyi making it easy to forget this is the former Bond girl and Hong Kong action star who once jumped a motorcycle onto a moving train outdoing Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. It is by far Yeohs finest most multi-layered performance to date and it is not difficult to see why she was so drawn to the screenplay and the chance to play such an iconic role. David Thewelis also puts in a decent performance as Suu Kyis doting husband and Oxford scholar Michael Aris. Given almost equal screen time as Yeoh, the story is mostly told from his perspective as he finds himself exiled from Burma and after an enforced separation from his wife, having to follow her plight through television news and short, stilted phone calls. Thewlis paints a rounded portrait of Aris from behind the subtle prosthetics and wild hair. He presents a solemn, sombre man who never loses sight of his wifes monumental struggle against the oppressive regime, pushing to get international recognition of the plight of the Burmese people in turn making the difficult sacrifices he has to make all the more poignant. Thewlis is also called upon to play a dual role and puts in a convincing portrayal of Michaels twin brother Anthony. The films main weakness is in its clunky, by-the-numbers script written by Rebecca Frayn. Beginning with the assassination of Suu Kyis father Aung San and the members of his group attempting to lead Burma to independence in 1947, the film continues through major events in Suu Kyis life with no real sense of urgency or a clear timeline to guide us through the key moments. It almost requires a reasonable background knowledge of the subject to fill in the gaps left by the screenplay as it leaves many unanswered questions throughout the film's running time. Luc Besson eschews his usual kinetic style for a more anonymous approach. There is little to identify this as a Besson film aside from a few nicely put together sequences, in particular the opening assassination which is packed with Bessons trademark stylish slow-motion, slick editing and sudden violence. His presentation of the Burmese government is straight out of a bad Chuck Norris film with overweight, sweaty men arguing in smoke filled rooms and turns the real life drama into melodrama. However with high production values and authentic sets in the Bangkok location doubling for Rangoon, the cinematography takes full advantage of the sun soaked location conjuring up some superb shots of glistening golden temples. Long time Besson collaborator Eric Serra provides a decent score favouring orchestral strings to his usual electronic approach adding to the beautiful visuals. The Lady is for the most part a love story with the central couple having to face challenges far and beyond most relationships requiring strength and courage in the face of extreme adversity. It packs an emotional punch but as a biopic of one of the worlds most remarkable women it lacks the depth and conviction to make it a truly memorable film. Quality Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with a 1080p transfer the overall result is excellent. The visual style is preserved and looks superb with beautifully composed cinematography filling the screen with detail and rich imagery. The colour range is well considered and a light level of grain maintained throughout the film is never overdone. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally well done striking the right balance between the more peaceful scenes and the power of the films more shocking violence. Eric Serras sweeping score is high in the mix but not to the detriment of the rest of the soundtrack. Extras With only two featurettes the special features are rather unspectacular. The first, a making of documentary running at just under 30 minutes is a standard affair featuring interviews with the stars and director as well as featuring some moderately interesting behind the scenes footage and background on the development of the film. The other feature is a 20 minute documentary entitled Happy World Burma, The Dictatorship of the Absurd which takes a look at life in Burma detailing the more unusual aspects of the regime, however this is a fairly lightweight piece and lacking in any real depth. Film 3 out of 5 Michelle Yeoh holds the film together with a career best performance but sadly Luc Bessons contribution is rather flat favouring an anonymous approach in place of his usual stylish direction. Visuals 4 out of 5 The HD picture quality is excellent preserving the superb cinematography and overall well considered look of the film Audio 4 out of 5 A crisp, clear audio presentation further enhances the visuals with Serras emotive score. Extras 2 out of 5 Special features are lightweight and missing an in-depth look at the background of the film and subject matter. Presentation 3 out of 5 The disc presentation is fairly standard with simple menus and box artwork. Overall 3 out of 5 The Lady is a highly emotional love story but only just scratches the surface of Suu Kyis remarkable life. Michelle Yeoh is incredible in the lead role and David Thewlis offers excellent support but a poorly constructed screenplay and flat direction undermines their efforts in this by-the-numbers biopic. The Lady is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.