Don’t confuse this biopic with “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. This stars Michelle Yeoh and is about Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s iconic freedom fighter, known as South Asia’s “steel orchid.”
Back in 1947, Suu Kyi’s idyllic childhood was shattered when her beloved father, General Aung San, who negotiated Burma’s independence, was assassinated in Rangoon while planning the formation of a new government. He became a martyr to the pro-democracy movement and she moved to England, where she later married a tweedy Oxford history professor, Michael Aris (David Thewlis), and became the mother of two young boys. But in 1988, when her mother was dying, Suu Kyi returns home where she’s approached to become the symbolic head of the non-violent Burmese pro-democracy movement, determined to topple the oppressive military junta headed by brutal General Ne Win (Htun Lin). Duty-bound to fulfill her father’s wishes, she humbly agrees, only to find herself confined under restrictive house arrest from 1989 to 2010, stoically enduring a painful separation from her devoted London-based husband and sons. During that time, Aris not only successfully spearheads a diplomatic movement to award Suu Kyi the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia but also endures a solitary struggle with terminal prostate cancer.
Reverentially scripted by Rebecca Frayn and inspirationally directed by French action auteur Luc Besson (“Taken,” “Transporter 2,” “The Fifth Element”), it was photographed by Thierry Arbogast in China, Thailand, London and, secretly, 17 hours in Rangoon. Utilizing family photographs and Internet satellite images, Besson built an exact replica of her family compound.
Embodying Aung San Suu Kyi with courage, dignity and authority, Malaysia’s multilingual Michelle Yeoh (“Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) recalls meeting The Lady herself who – when she heard about the film – said, “Use your freedom to promote ours.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lady” is an elegant 8, deriving its title from how Aung San Suu Kyi is known in Burma (now called Myanmar), where one cannot even say her name aloud.