Half of a Yellow Sun
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th April 2014
So often the books that wind up closest to readers’ hearts are those that involve a tortuous love affair set against the backdrop of war. Think Birdsong or even Mister Pip, both of which have been turned into effectively compelling cinema. Add to this list Half of a Yellow Sun, which effortlessly walks the tightrope between a tale of beautifully-costumed, adulterous frivolity and the devastating realities of genocide.
Set in Lagos, Nigeria as the country gains independence in 1960, we’re introduced to the twin daughters of a chief, both well-coiffed, British-accented, independent young women. Each embarks on an unconventional love affair that takes their lives down separate paths, while the country climbs aboard its rollercoaster of political strife.
Written and directed by Biyi Bandele from the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the film does well in its handling of both fun and fear. British actors Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) and Thandie Newton (Crash) deliver strong, energetic performances as the lead couple, keeping the story moving apace and constantly engaging as the intelligentsia of which they are part engage in middle class philosophising over fags and booze, while Lagos falls under a military coup. Supporting characters include the fierce African mother-in-law whose disapproval of their union knows no bounds and the beautiful sister who faces her own marital dilemmas.
This British production packs it all in with aplomb – stunning production design is enhanced by immaculate lighting and a terrific soundtrack of local music, while the romantic intrigue increases with every scene. Archive newsreel of the time lends gravitas to the unfolding civil war, and when all hell breaks loose, the audience is pulled up short and there are some very moving moments.
Engrossing both as a potted history of one of Africa’s many dark hours and a tale of love’s travails, Half of a Yellow Sun is intelligent entertainment of a high order.