Filming of the movie “The Lady”, the Anglo-French big screen version of the remarkable life of Myanmar freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, was wrapped up on January 18. Michèle Abitbol-Lasry, the publicist for EuropaCorp-Left Bank Pictures-France 2 Cinema, the maker of The Lady, confirms that the eagerly awaited film is already in its post-production and is scheduled for worldwide release later this year.
The movie is directed by Luc Besson, the filmmaker who brought us The Fifth Element and The Professional. Aung San Suu Kyi is played by international superstar Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) while David Thewlis (of Harry Potter fame) plays her university academic husband Michael Aris. The movie, originally titled as “Into The Light”, has been renamed “The Lady” which is the name that Suu Kyi goes by because saying her real name is forbidden in Burma.
Besson said Aung San Suu Kyi was “more of a heroine than Joan of Arc” and he hopes the film would further disseminate her ongoing struggles. It is the fight of a woman without any weapons, just her kindness and her mentality. She is very Gandhi-like.”
On her first private meeting with Suu Kyi at the Yangon International Airport, Michelle said, “The first thing we did is hug and I thought you are really skinny, man. One of the first things she said was ‘Why doesn’t the BBC world service have more music?”
“You feel a real sense of calm when you’re with her. She’s a very striking figure. She is so proud of her culture and the best way to show it is with dignity and elegance. She has a glow and an aura about her.”
The film will chart her remarkable journey from housewife bringing up her children in Oxford to taking on the power of Burma’s generals by becoming opposition leader. Filming of the movie, which began on Oct 18, was done in various parts of Thailand, Myanmar, UK and France.
It will build up to that awful choice she had to make between country and family when her husband, Michael Aris, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Yeoh, who made her name in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was instrumental in getting Besson on board to direct, helping to set up a meeting with the producer Andy Harries – who made The Queen – and the French director at Cannes.
The film is a co-production between Besson’s Europacorp and Harries’s Left Bank Pictures and has been written by the novelist and screenwriter Rebecca Frayn – Harries’s wife and the daughter of Michael Frayn.
Rebecca Frayn wrote the script over a period of three year, speaking to the key figures in Suu Kyi’s entourage to enable her to have a personal account of the national heroine of Myanmar who was put under house arrest most of her life.
Harries said the genesis of the project goes back to the early 1990s when he and his wife visited Burma. “At the time Suu Kyi had just won the election but was under house arrest. It was an extraordinary experience for us. On the one hand, it is a stunningly beautiful country but on the other it is frightening – the austerity, the poverty, the sadness of the people. We weren’t really allowed to go anywhere and people were scared of talking to us. It left a long impression on both of us.”
The film is not a biopic, said Harries. It will be set between 1988 – when Aung San Suu Kyi left Oxford to visit her sick mother and ended up staying – and 1999, the year Aris died after being diagnosed with cancer. Aris had been forbidden from entering Burma, a decision that left Aung San Suu Kyi with the almost impossible decision of whether to stay or go.
“The film builds to that incredible and depressing crossroads,” said Harries. “That is the human tragedy of it all.”
Harries knew that the key to the whole project would be the actress playing Aung San Suu Kyi. “There was never any doubt in my mind about who should play her, Michelle Yeoh was perfect.”
The script was sent to Michelle’s agent. “Michelle rang me 24 hours later saying she’d read the script and she was coming to London to meet me. We met, she looked at me and said ‘this is a fantastic script, how are we going to do it?’ ”
Although they are making the film without Aung San Suu Kyi’s permission, Harries said they felt a heavy obligation to get it right. “This is a very interesting story, a powerful story and, I think, an important story. She has not had the publicity that, say, Mandela had.
“Her situation is remarkably similar, she is one of those extraordinary people driven by principle who are determined to bring about change peacefully.”
Harries said writing the script involved talking to people involved in the story including monks, activists, diplomats and academics. “It is a bit like a jigsaw involving a very wide group of people who knew her, knew him, knew the family.
“A lot of the story, or the story we wanted to tell … of their relationship, is not known. It is a fantastic love story.”
I eagerly await this movie. And in the meantime, let’s pray for Aung Sang Suu Kyi!