Review – Half of a Yellow Sun
Set in Nigeria, and based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun is a tale of interpersonal tragedy set against the background of the Biafran War (1967-1970). Twin sisters Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), recently graduated, each decide to go their separate ways on the eve of Nigerian independence. Olanna takes up a position as a sociology lecturer, to be with the radical intellectual Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), while Kainene accepts a management opportunity in her father’s business.
The loving rivalry between these two women forms the centrepiece of this story, but a strong cast flesh out the setting and give life to a much wider narrative – so that as violence breaks out in the lead up to the war, we’re given a complex and subtle exploration of the nature of human relationships. But, unfortunately, where a host of characters can co-exist neatly on the page, they sometimes struggle to share the screen, and in the transition from literature to cinema the drama of Yellow Sun feels a bit squeezed.
To pick an example, at one point in the film Olanna hears of a main character’s death, but the camera doesn’t linger on Newton long enough for the scene to breathe and for her reaction to play out. Rather, the mood is quickly abandoned, and the film moves along to its next beat. In contrast, the scene where Olanna and Odenigbo flee their house plays out far too long; although the whole sequence is beautifully shot, its runtime could have been better utilised elsewhere.
Half of a Yellow Sun is a fantastic and highly authentic Nigerian production. But in trying to confine Chimamanda Adichie’s sprawling narrative to a reasonable running time the full potential of the film wasn’t quite realised. Strong performances and a compelling plot make this a film yet worth seeing, but the wrong compromises were made in trying to adapt the source material.