Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's award-winning novel is a memorable journey through the lives of twin sisters in Nigeria during the 1960s' civil war. It's filled with a multitude of life-changing political events, personal dramas and tragedies, all given adequate space in the novel for the reader to absorb.
Adichie's novel could be translated into film in a grand, epic manner, or in a more intimate and gritty style. In his debut feature film, director Biyi Bandele is somewhat stuck in the middle, and it feels as if the key moments are being frantically ticked off a list.
Half of a Yellow Sun begins with twins Olanna (Newton) and Kainene (Rose) returning to their privileged life in newly independent Nigeria after being educated in England. The twins pursue different paths, academic Olanna heads north to be with her "revolutionary professor" and lover Odenigbo (Ejiofor), while businesswoman Kainene takes over the family business and falls for English writer Richard (Joseph Mawle).
A breakdown in Olanna's relationship with Odenigbo leads to a betrayal between the sisters, and the relationship between the couples is further strained when the Biafran War - between the Muslim Hausas and the Christian Igbos - breaks out
The performances, led by 12 Years a Slave's Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, are impressive, although the melodramatic tone of the romantic relationships dominates and sits slightly uncomfortably against the gruesome backdrop of ethnic conflict. Bandele's film captures the horror of war, but it's not until this war has stripped these characters bare that we genuinely connect emotionally with their plight.
As far as a history lesson goes, the use of archive news footage is a clever way of explaining the political situation, and though this is a film set within its time, it feels relevant today beyond being an epic, war-torn love story.
Half of a Yellow Sun is handsomely shot but doesn't quite capture the magnitude of a country at war, giving the feeling that some scenes have been confined by budget. An ambitious film worthy of attention, regrettably it doesn't come together quite as powerfully as you'd hope.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose
M (Violence and sex scenes)
An ambitious and worthy drama that doesn't quite come together.