The Lady (2011 film)

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The Lady
Theatrical poster
Directed byLuc Besson[1]
Written byRebecca Frayn[2]
Produced byVirginie Besson-Silla
Andy Harries
Jean Todt
StarringMichelle Yeoh
David Thewlis[3]
Jonathan Woodhouse
Jonathan Raggett
CinematographyThierry Arbogast
Edited byJulien Rey
Music byÉric Serra
Distributed byEuropaCorp (France)
Entertainment Film Distributors (United Kingdom)
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
United Kingdom
Budget€22.1 million[4]
Box office$7.8 million[5]

The Lady is a 2011 French-British biographical film directed by Luc Besson,[6] starring Michelle Yeoh[7] as Aung San Suu Kyi and David Thewlis[8] as her late husband Michael Aris.[9] Yeoh called the film "a labour of love" but also confessed it had felt intimidating for her to play the Nobel laureate.[10]


In 1947, when Aung San Suu Kyi was two years old, her father Aung San led Burma to independence. But soon afterwards, on 19 July 1947, he, along with a group of his colleagues, was assassinated by a group of armed men in uniform.[11]

As an adult Suu Kyi went to England, found a loving husband, and had a happy family life. But in 1988 her mother's poor health forced her to return to Burma where her father, Aung San, was still widely remembered. When she visited her mother in the hospital in 1988, she met many of the people who were wounded during the Tatmadaw's crackdown in the 8888 Uprising. She realises that political change is needed in Burma and is soon drawn into the movement to promote reform.[12] She then accepted the role of icon in support of self-determination by the Burmese people and devoted herself to activities in support of goals of greater political freedoms.[13]

Suu Kyi founded a political party and clearly won the 1990 elections. However, the Burmese military refused to accept the result of the election and moved to bring Suu Kyi under control. She and her family were separated when her husband and children are banned from Burma and she was put under a house arrest for more than a decade.[14] Yet their relentless struggling for Suu Kyi's recognition outside Burma is her guarantee she won't be forgotten and cannot disappear unnoticed. Due to her family's efforts, she became the second woman in Asia to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first being Mother Teresa of India in 1979. Yet their separation continued because Suu Kyi could neither attend the ceremony nor could 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.[16] She visited London to meet the couple.[17] 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.[18][19][20] 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.[21]

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.[22] Yeoh visited Suu Kyi soon afterwards.[23] She would say later it had been like visiting a dear family member.[24] 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.[25] Aung San Suu Kyi even gave her a hug.[26] 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.[27] This time Besson was allowed to meet Suu Kyi.[28] 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.[29]


Writer Rebecca Frayn interviewed a number of Suu Kyi's confidants and based her screenplay on the testimonies.[30][31] Some supporters provided Frayn information only because she wouldn't disclose these sources, and her work was openly appreciated by Suu Kyi's brother-in-law Anthony Aris.[32]

To portray Suu Kyi, Michelle Yeoh watched about two hundred hours of audiovisual material on Suu Kyi and took lessons in Burmese.[33] Her talent for languages is evident when she delivers Suu Kyi's historic speeches in Burmese.[34] The actress had refreshed her skills as a piano player.[35] 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.[36][37] As Yeoh told the New York Post, the silk and cotton costumes she wears are Burmese.[38] 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".[39]

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.[40] Luc Besson himself went to Burma, scouted locations and filmed in disguise.[41] To achieve authenticity Luc Besson engaged many Burmese actors and extras. Some of them, like Thein Win, re-enacted their personal memories.[42] Once or twice the filming of a scene had to stop 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.[44] The scenes showing Michael Aris as a dying cancer patient were also shot on location in the actual hospital.[45]


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.[46] 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 was an exclusive screening at the Asia Society in New York.[11] Mongrel Media released the film in Canada on 6 April 2012.[47]

The European premiere took place when the film served as opening film of the Rome Film Festival on 27 October 2011.[48] 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.[49]

In Asia The Lady was closer of the International Hua Hin Film Festival where Michelle Yeoh declared she planned on visiting Burma again.[43][50] The screening had such a packed house that eventually a second screen was provided.[51] On 2 February 2012 the film was released in Thailand and Singapore.[52] On 3 February it had its premiere in Hong Kong, followed by a theatrical release on 9 February.[53] In Burma, a great number of pirated versions are distributed privately.[54]


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, the reception was more positive.

  • Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film 36% (based on 72 reviews), with an average score of 5.16/10.[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.[57]
  • 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."[58]
  • Asian Week's Annabelle Udo O'Malley evaluated the film as "certainly worth seeing" for its "beautiful cinematography" and its soundtrack.[59]
  • 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".[60]
  • 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".[61]

United Kingdom

  • Robbie Collin of The Daily 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".[63]
  • Julia Suryakusuma (The Jakarta Post) said she had cried while watching the film.[64]
  • 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.[65]

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton watched The Lady before she met the real Aung San Suu Kyi.[66]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Third The Lady Trailer". Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  2. ^ "The Lady". Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  3. ^ "David Thewlis says he cried over The Lady script". Retrieved 21 December 2011.
  4. ^ "The Lady". Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  5. ^ "The Lady". Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  6. ^ Smith, Ian Hayden (2012). International Film Guide 2012. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-908215-01-7.
  7. ^ Petty, Martin (29 March 2012). "Myanmar's Suu Kyi: from prisoner to would-be lawmaker". Reuters. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  8. ^ Barton, Laura. "David Thewlis: the secret surrealist". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  9. ^ Zeitchik, Steven. "David Thewlis is the 'Anonymous' actor who's everywhere". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  10. ^ "Michelle Yeoh – The Lady". Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  11. ^ a b "A journey of self-realisation". Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  12. ^ a b "This portrait of a Lady gets its perspectives wrong". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  13. ^ Barber, Nicholas. "The Lady, Luc Besson, 127 mins". The Independent. London. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  14. ^ "First Images of Michelle Yeoh in Luc Besson's THE LADY". Archived from the original on 1 June 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  15. ^ a b Brown, Mark; Simon Hattenstone (19 December 2010). "Aung San Suu Kyi's tragic love and incredible life come to the big screen". London: (Guardian News & Media). Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  16. ^ "Michelle Yeoh always wanted to play Aung San Suu Kyi". Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  17. ^ "Michelle Yeoh". Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  18. ^ "Michelle Yeoh Q&A". Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  19. ^ a b "Luc Besson Filming 'The Lady' In Secret". Archived from the original on 11 January 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  20. ^ Marshall, Andrew (17 December 2010). "Q&A: Luc Besson". Time. Archived from the original on 20 December 2010. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  21. ^ "'The Lady': Luc Besson, Michelle Yeoh on Myanmar's Suu Kyi". Los Angeles Times. 4 November 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  22. ^ "Toronto: Distribution Deal For Luc Besson's 'The Lady' Puts Michelle Yeoh And David Thewlis In Oscar Race". Retrieved 8 January 2011.
  23. ^ Middleton, Jim. "Suu Kyi's biggest challenge is the Burma ahead". ABC Online. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  24. ^ "The Lady: Aung San Suu Kyi's Fight for Freedom". Time. 27 December 2010. Archived from the original on 20 December 2010. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  25. ^ "Michelle Yeoh discusses film role with Aung San Suu Kyi". BBC News. 7 December 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  26. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (6 April 2012). "The Big Profile". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  27. ^ "Myanmar Deports Michelle Yeoh After Suu Kyi Movie", Associated Press via Yahoo News (27 June 2011)
  28. ^ "The Lady". The Daily Telegraph. London. 8 November 2011. Archived from the original on 9 November 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  29. ^ Child, Ben (8 November 2011). "Aung San Suu Kyi: the lady says thank you". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  30. ^ Smith, Damon. "Lady vanishes in schmaltzy epic". The Independent. Belfast. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  31. ^ "International Rome Film Festival Guide" (PDF). Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  32. ^ Frater, Patrick. "Michelle Yeoh Q&A". Film Business Asia. Hong Kong. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  33. ^ "Michelle Yeoh Transforms into Aung San Suu Kyi, 'The Lady'". Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  34. ^ "'The Lady': Luc Besson, Michelle Yeoh on Myanmar's Suu Kyi ('The Lady': Luc Besson, Michelle Yeoh on Myanmar's Suu Kyi)". Los Angeles Times. 4 November 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  35. ^ "Michelle Yeoh says she and Luc Besson were determined to bring The Lady to the big screen". Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  36. ^ Yun, Tan Kee. "Why should I be afraid? Says Michelle Yeoh". Asia One. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  37. ^ Yun, Tan Kee. "Michelle Yeoh lost 10kg, learnt Burmese for Suu Kyi role". Diva Asia. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  38. ^ Adams, Cindy (15 December 2011). "The lady is a champ in Burma". New York Post. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  39. ^ "Michelle Yeoh and Luc Besson Discuss 'The Lady,' Aung San Suu Kyi". Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  40. ^ Adams, Cindy (15 December 2011). "The lady is a champ in Burma". New York Post. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  41. ^ Adams, Cindy (15 December 2011). "The lady is a champ in Burma". New York Post. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  42. ^ "The Lady: Aung San Suu Kyi's Fight for Freedom". Time. 27 December 2010. Archived from the original on 20 December 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  43. ^ a b Schwankert, Steven (11 November 2011). "Michelle Yeoh Calls Aung San Suu Kyi an 'Iconic Female Asian Figure'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  44. ^ Clarke, Andrew (5 January 2012). "Realistic, exotic look for 'Lady'". Variety. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  45. ^ Gibbs, Ed. "Portrait of a lady". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  46. ^ Kemp, Stuart (28 September 2011). "Luc Besson's 'The Lady,' Starring Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis to Close Doha Tribeca Film Festival". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  47. ^ "Coming soon The Lady". Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  48. ^ Lyman, Eric J. (26 August 2011). "Luc Besson's 'The Lady' Named Rome Film Festival's Opening Film". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  49. ^ "Michelle Yeoh promotes 'The Lady'". Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  50. ^ MacKinnon, Ian (2011). "Michelle Yeoh planning to try to visit Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma again". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  51. ^ "It Gets Better takes audience award at inaugural Hua Hin festival". Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  52. ^ Frater, Patrick. "Lady scores on Singapore debut". Film Business Asia. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  53. ^ ""The Lady", the latest film by Luc Besson with Michelle Yeoh released on Feb 9". Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  54. ^ "Yeoh says 'lifetime opportunity' to play Suu Kyi". Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  55. ^ "The Lady". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  56. ^ "The Lady". 18 April 2012. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  57. ^ Uhlich, Keith. "Film review The Lady". Time Out Chicago. Chicago. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  58. ^ Rooney, David (12 September 2011). "The Lady: Toronto Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Toronto. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  59. ^ O'Malley, Annabelle. "The Lady: Toronto Review". Asian Week. San Francisco. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  60. ^ Holliday, Summer J. "The Lady (2011) Review". Working Author. Hollywood. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  61. ^ Silverstein, Melissa. "Review: The Lady". indieWire. New York. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  62. ^ Collin, Robbie (29 December 2011). "The Lady, review". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
  63. ^ Stratton, David. "Review: The Lady". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Canberra. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  64. ^ Suryakusuma, Julia. "Will Indonesia ever grow a Steel Orchid?". The Jakarta Post. Jakarta. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  65. ^ "The Lady". University News. Hong Kong. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  66. ^ Pennington, Matthew (10 April 2012). "Hillary Clinton On 'The Lady': Luc Besson, Michelle Yeoh Movie on Myanmar's Suu Kyi Is 'A Moving Experience'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 23 April 2012.

External links[edit]