Half Of A Yellow Sun


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"A film worth shouting about."

Biafra's flag had stripes of red, black, and green, and in the centre shone half a yellow sun. Biafra's brief existence was full of bloodshed, oil and envy, all contributing to a turbulent few years of attempted nationhood. It's a period that forms a backdrop for an affecting family story.

Based on the novel of the same name, this is a stunning debut feature for writer/director Biyi Bandele. A novelist himself, the versatile Bandele has adapted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's story into something special. He's aided in this version of her story by several strong performances, not least by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Odenigbo, a so-called "revolutionary" - this is not Odenigbo's story, however, as much as it is that of two sisters - Olanna and Kainene. Played by Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose, they're born into wealth and power in Lagos, bustling capital of immediately post-colonial Nigeria, but as events unfold even their relationship is tested.

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Using newsreel footage, occasionally superimposed route-maps that give a sense of the scale of the territories involved, with the characters gaining news as we do from radio broadcasts, the direction shows a confidence and verve that's refreshing. The staging of a marriage proposal and its acceptance is amazing, a standout moment in a film that manages to surprise throughout. A mirrorball becoming a globe is a beautiful piece of film-making, managing to evoke a particular kind of Sixties sensibility that does as much to ground us in a place and time as Queen Elizabeth the Second descending the stairs from the Argonaut airliner Atalanta in British Pathe footage.

There are a number of good supporting performances, Joseph Mawle in particular is part of a harrowing sequence as the civil war comes to an airport, but Jon Boyega (Moses in Attack The Block) is great, as Odenigbo's 'house-boy' Ugwu, as is Susan Wokama as Odenigbo's mother's 'girl', Amala. There are so many well judged moments where race, class, wealth, sex, tribalism and other politics interact. They speak to the skill of the cast but to the director's ability to elicit those performances, and also to frame them within a well-constructed adaptation of complex source material.

The source novel won both plaudits and prizes, and this film deserves them too. Ejiofor and Newton's talents aren't really in doubt, but they're well in evidence here, and on the strength of this Bandele's skill as a director is also clear. The soundtrack is good, on occasion perhaps slightly over-egging the pudding, but that's forgiveable. As with Mary, Queen of Scots, also shown at 2014's Glasgow Film Festival, this is a human story with a historical backdrop, rather than a history in and of itself. It unfolds, unfurls perhaps, with a confidence and boldness that speaks to the bright colours and optimism of that titular flag - it's a film worth shouting about, and certainly worth seeing.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2014
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Civil war shatters the comfortable illusions of Nigeria’s middle class in this 1960s-set love story.
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Director: Biyi Bandele

Writer: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Biyi Bandele

Starring: Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, John Boyega, Rob David, Babou Ceesay, Genevieve Nnaji, O.C. Ukeje, Paul Hampshire, Zack Orji, Susan Wokoma, Onyeka Onwenu

Year: 2013

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Nigeria, UK

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