Half of a Yellow Sun
The adaptation Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel is beautiful and well-acted but lacks depth
This adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s prize-winning novel comes unstuck in the same way as many literary adaptations before it, feeling too often like a story that is just skimming the surfaces of its characters and plot-lines, never digging into a specific line of enquiry. Despite strong performances and plenty of incident, writer and director Biyi Bandele fails to establish the narrative’s wider national and political context, and the film is ultimately insubstantial as a result.
The story centres on sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), educated young women in 60s Nigeria, attempting to assert their independence just as their nation seeks to do the same. Olanna moves in with her academic boyfriend Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a wannabe revolutionary who hosts nights of political discussion, while Kainene takes on the running of their father’s business and marries British diplomat Richard (Joseph Mawle). But the sisters are first split apart by a series of betrayals, then civil war overtakes the nation and their lives are irreversibly changed.
Shot on location in Nigeria, the film looks as beautiful as its cast, and Bandele clearly has an eye for a well-crafted shot: in several extended sequences the camera moves through walls and floors in a pleasingly fluid manner. But his decision to regularly cut to archive newsreel to explain the national situation has a conversely crippling effect on the film’s flow, while also failing to convey the key issues at stake for Nigeria. Against this blurry backdrop, the characters’ various affairs and confrontations develop a soapy quality, an impression furthered by the film’s galloping pace. The drama gains some weight in the film’s latter, war-torn stages, but is finally weakened by an abrupt, dissatisfying ending.
Limited release from Fri 11 Apr.