Half of a Yellow Sun– Review by Frank L.
Directed by Biyi Bandele
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, John Boyega
Half of a Yellow Sun is released EXCLUSIVELY at the IFI from April 11th 2014
Based on a novel of the same title, Bandele begins his adaptation with scenes from the contemporaneous footage of 1st October 1960 of the arrival of the Queen and Prince Philip in Lagos to attend the Independence Day ceremonies bringing to an end British colonial rule in Nigeria. Of course, Nigeria did not exist as a country until the British created it for their own administrative purposes and their withdrawal from government meant that long latent tribal rivalries were likely to become more powerful in the new state. Unfortunately that likelihood became reality, civil war on tribal lines erupted. The immediate aftermath of independence and the civil war is the mise en scene against which the story of two well-heeled, Western- educated, elegant and intelligent sisters, daughters of a corruptly rich business man and their intertwined lives is told. Primarily it is the relationship of Olanna and her “radical” lover Odenigbo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor of 12 years a slave fame) is the relationship which drives the story.
Civil war creates its own horrors and confusions as it is difficult to know where the enemy lurks. That difficulty creates serious challenges to any film director as, at times, it is difficult to know who is friend or foe. Bandele does not entirely succeed in this regard. In addition in its initial phases the film as it seeks to show the life of privilege of the twin sisters in colonial Nigeria, is hampered by some pretty stilted dialogue which none of the actors were able to surmount convincingly. The outbreak of the civil war removed the need for drawing-room manners and the dialogue became more credible. The incidental music is eclectic and includes Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, Handel’s the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and Finlandia which is also the hymn tune “ Be still my soul”.
The original novel is based on real characters so the outline of the story is based in fact. Somehow the film does not entirely convince. However it is important that the calamitous consequences of civil war are remembered in the hope that they are not repeated. In that context, Bandele has created film that is worth seeing as it demonstrates clearly the grim consequences of the Nigerian civil war.