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The Lady (2011 film)

The Lady
Theatrical poster
Directed by Luc Besson[66]
Produced by Virginie Besson-Silla
Andy Harries
Jean Todt
Written by Rebecca Frayn[67]
Starring Michelle Yeoh
David Thewlis[68]
Jonathan Woodhouse
Music by Éric Serra
Cinematography Thierry Arbogast
Edited by Julien Rey
Distributed by EuropaCorp (France)
Entertainment Film Distributors (UK)
Cohen Media Group (US)
Release dates
  • 12 September 2011 (2011-09-12) (TIFF)
  • 30 November 2011 (2011-11-30) (France)
  • 30 December 2011 (2011-12-30) (UK)
Running time 135 minutes
Country France
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget €22,100,000[69]
Box office $3,404,191[70]

The Lady is a French-English Biographical film directed by Luc Besson,[71] starring Michelle Yeoh[72] as Aung San Suu Kyi and David Thewlis[73] as her late husband Michael Aris.[74] Michelle Yeoh called the film "a labour of love" but also confessed it had felt intimidating for her to play the Nobel laureate.[75]


In 1947, when Aung San Suu Kyi is two years old, her father Nobel Peace Prize. Yet their separation continues because neither can Suu Kyi attend the ceremony nor can her husband Michael Aris see her one last time before his early death.


Aung San Suu Kyi appears in public after her release on 14 November 2010

Rebecca Frayn began working on the project after she and her husband, producer Andy Harries had visited Burma in the early 1990s.[15] Harries' production company Left Bank Pictures began development of the script in 2008. Harries wanted Michelle Yeoh as the lead and had the script sent to her.[15] The actress was thrilled because she had always wanted to play Suu Kyi.[78] She visited London to meet the couple.[79] The script was as British as its origin, telling the story solely from Michael Aris' perspective but Michelle Yeoh claimed she brought an Asian insight to it. Her husband Jean Todt (who later on also accompanied the project as accredited producer) encouraged her to contact his country fellowman and friend Luc Besson.[80][19][81] Besson accepted the script immediately as an opportunity for him to finally present a real life heroine, a female fighter who wields no other weapons than her human virtues.[82]

During the shooting of the film, news broke that Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest had been lifted. Luc Besson hesitated to believe what he saw on TV because it looked so much like his recent footage.[83] Yeoh visited Suu Kyi soon afterwards.[84] She would say later it had been like visiting a dear family member.[85] When they discussed the film the actress got the feeling she was still on the film set because Luc Besson had recreated the house so accurately.[86] Aung San Suu Kyi even gave her a hug.[87] On 22 June 2011 Yeoh wanted to visit Suu Kyi a second time but was deported from Burma, reportedly over her portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi.[88] This time Besson was allowed to meet Suu Kyi.[89] Suu Kyi said she would hesitate to watch the film because she wasn't too sure to be up to it already, although she asked for a copy.[90]


Writer Rebecca Frayn interviewed a number of Suu Kyi's confidants, and based her on the testimonies.[91][92] While some supporters did provide her information only because she wouldn't disclose these sources, her work was openly appreciated by Suu Kyi's brother-in-law Anthony Aris.[32]

To portray Suu Kyi, Michelle Yeoh watched about 200 hours of audiovisual material on Suu Kyi and took lessons in Burmese.[93] Her talent for languages is evident when she delivers Suu Kyi's historic speeches in Burmese.[94] The actress had refreshed her skills as a piano player.[95] Despite always having been petite, Michelle Yeoh evidently lost weight to embody Suu Kyi whose son had stressed that his mother was slimmer than Yeoh.[96][97] As Yeoh told the New York Post, the silk and cotton costumes she wears are Burmese.[98] Luc Besson stated later Michelle Yeoh "had perfected Suu Kyi's appearance and the nuances of her personality to such an extent that the lines between the real human being and the portrayed character blurred when they crossed in real life".[99]

Under director Luc Besson's helm, his crew also pursued accuracy. Even the cardinal directions were respected when Suu Kyi's home was rebuilt, so that the audience would see the sunrise in the same way as Suu Kyi. Based on satellite images and about 200 family photographs they constructed a precise 1:1 scale model of this house.[100] Luc Besson himself went to Burma, scouted locations and filmed in disguise.[101] To achieve authenticity Luc Besson engaged many Burmese actors and extras. Some of them, like Thein Win, re-enacted their personal memories.[102] Once or twice the filming of a scene had to be ceased because Michelle Yeoh's performance of a speech (in Burmese) elicited outbursts of emotion among extras who had originally heard Suu Kyi.[43]

Co-producer Andy Harries concentrated on substantiating the British part of his wife's script. He achieved authenticity of the happy time in Suu Kyi's life, when she lived with her family in the United Kingdom. Their flat was also recreated on a sound stage, although the film includes scenes shot on location in front of the house itself.[103] The scenes showing Michael Aris as moribund cancer patient were also shot on location in the actual hospital.[104]


Michelle Yeoh presenting The Lady at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011

The Lady had its world premiere on 12 September 2011 at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival. On 29 October 2011 it was shown as closer at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.[105] Cohen Media Group, the US distributor of the film, had a one week limited Academy Engagement theatrical run in Los Angeles during 2–8 December 2011. Moreover there has been an exclusive screening at the Asia Society in New York.[11] Mongrel Media released the film in Canada on 6 April 2012.[106]

The European premiere took place when the film served as opening film of the Rome Film Festival on 27 October 2011.[107] In the UK The Lady was distributed by Entertainment Film Distributors.[19] It was distributed by EuropaCorp throughout Continental Europe. In Germany's cinemas the film opened on 15 March.[108]

In Asia The Lady was closer of the International Hua Hin Film Festival where Michelle Yeoh declared she planned on visiting Burma again.[43][109] The screening had such a packed house that eventually a second screen was provided.[110] On 2 February 2012 the film was released in Thailand and Singapore.[111] On 3 February it had its premiere in Hong Kong, followed by a theatrical release on 9 February.[112] In Burma, a great number of pirated versions are distributed privately.[113]


The film received mixed reviews, generally negative in the west, but stronger in the east. English critics often appreciated the efforts of the leading actress, Michelle Yeoh, and the performance of English actor David Thewlis while criticising director/producer Luc Besson. American critics joined the criticism of Luc Besson. In Asia, where people are more familiar with the historical inspiration of the film, the reception was more positive.

  • Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film 1.5 stars and a rating of 34% (based on 65 reviews), with an average score of 5.2./10[55]

United States

  • Roger Ebert gave it two and a half stars, citing the strength of Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis' performances but suggesting that Besson should have stayed away from the biopic genre.[56]
  • Keith Uhlich (Time Out Chicago) described The Lady as a dutifully crafted biopic.[114]
  • David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter) praised Thierry Arbogast's cinematography for "boast(ing)" handsome visuals, the South Asian landscapes nicely contrasted with the grey stone structures of Oxford."[115]
  • Asian Week's Annabelle Udo O'Malley evaluated the film as "certainly worth seeing" for its "beautiful cinematography" and its soundtrack.[116]
  • Summer J. Holliday (Working Author) said the film was "a synergy of the harsh reality of modern military occupation and the effect it has on parties of either side".[117]
  • Melissa Silverstein – (indieWire) described "Michael's campaign to get Suu the Nobel Peace Prize to raise her visibility and protect her safety" as one of the film's highlights. She emphasised hereby the scene "of one of her sons accepting the award on her behalf as she listens to ceremony on a radio thousands of miles away". She found that scene "moving".[118]

United Kingdom

  • Robbie Collin of The Telegraph called the biopic, 'a pale imitation of an inspirational fighter for democracy.'[62]
  • Alex von Tunzelmann (The Guardian) criticised historicity, saying that "accounts of the assassination specifically mention that Aung San was seated and did not even have time to stand before the squad fired 13 bullets into him".[12]

Australia / Indonesia / Hong Kong

  • David Stratton (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) said Suu was "beautifully played by Michelle Yeoh... the epitome of grace and calm".[119]
  • Julia Suryakusuma (The Jakarta Post) said she had cried while watching the film.[120]
  • The University of Hong Kong said that "the movie provides a context for us to explore the issues of democracy and freedom and the related issues of humanities" when they announced a screening, inviting Luc Besson, Michelle Yeoh, and Professor Ian Holliday to a post-viewing discussion.[121]

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton watched The Lady before she met the real Aung San Suu Kyi.[122]

See also


  1. ^ . August 2014. 

External links

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