Half of a Yellow SunThursday 10 Apr 2014
Director: Biyi Bandele
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, John Boyega, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, Onyeka Onwenu
Duration: 111 minutes
The big screen take on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Orange Prize-winning novel of the same name, Half of a Yellow Sun is another noble literary adaptation that has arrived without much of a fanfare. It has a strong cast, mixes drama with real-life events (the Nigerian Civil War) and reminds you how much there is to discover of other histories and cultures. Its audience will be small, but many will want to read the book after watching - even with, or perhaps because of, the shortcomings on screen.
Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose play Olanna and Kainene, well-heeled, English-educated twins from Lagos who think they know the world inside out. It's 1960, Nigeria's independence has just been declared and Olanna and Kainene are leaving the family home, Kainene to run one of her father's businesses and Olanna for a lecturing post in a university up north.
Olanna is romantically involved with academic Odenigbo (Ejiofor), while Kainene has fallen for an Englishman, Richard (Mawle). Over the years we see how their expectations of life are radically altered by both love and hate.
For the first 40 minutes, Half of a Yellow Sun proves to be an irritating experience, with the characters as trying as their love life predicaments. Full credit, then, to director Biyi Bandele and his actors for making you care what happens to these people when their lives really take a turn for the worse. Hubris gives way to humility and status is replaced by survival as their homeland descends into chaos and, in one truly shocking scene, the full horror of impending war is brought home.
But while the period re-creation is excellent and the acting strong - it's one of Newton's best performances - Ejiofor feels strangely underused here, with the fact that certain key moments take place off-camera and a rushed ending also undoing some of the cast and crew's fine work, and the story's power.
Half of a great film, if you will.