Film Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun

Based on the best-selling novel, Biyi Bandele’s Half of a Yellow Sun is set against a rich historical background. The events of the narrative, however, do not quite match the seriousness of the setting.

Twin sisters Olanna and Kainene are the daughters of  a high ranking Nigerian government official. On the eve of independence, the pair decide to forge their own paths away from the comfort of their parents’ home. The tensions in Nigeria, however, greatly impact their choices…

Bandele’s adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is a curious piece. From the very beginning, the film is situation within a genuine historical context. The archive footage is effective at setting the scene. However, the tone of the action and the plot twists mark a departure from this meaty setting.

Simply put, Half of a Yellow Sun is a melodrama. Some of the incidents that occur would not seem out of place in a television soap opera. As a result, the plot is farcical at times. In the second half of the film, the story takes a more serious turn as the political instability comes further into play. This feels at odds with some of the relationship developments that occur; having a jarring effect of attempting to set a sombre tone when what has come before is rather vacuous. Writer-director Bandele does not marry these distinct aspects smoothly enough.

Frequently during Half of a Yellow Sun, the protagonists are embroiled in real events that occurred in Nigeria in the 1960s. The use of archive news reels and maps of the region emphasise unrest at this time. It is a little strange, however, how the film appears to suggest that its protagonists were real with the end titles.

Thandie Newton is almost applaudingly over the top as Olanna. Newton really buys into the melodrama of the plot. Chiwetel Ejiofor is more restrained as the politically active professor.

Half of a Yellow Sun is mostly certainly watchable, yet does not satisfy in a way that audiences may want.