HALF OF A YELLOW SUN
Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) are glamorous twins from a wealthy Nigerian family. Returning to a privileged city life in newly independent 1960s Nigeria after their expensive English education, the two women make very different choices. Olanna shocks her family by going to live with her lover, the "revolutionary professor" Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his devoted houseboy Ugwu (John Boyega) in the dusty university town of Nsukka. Kainene turns out to be a successful businesswoman when she takes over the family interests, and surprises herself when she falls in love with Richard (Joseph Mawle), an English writer. Preoccupied by their romantic entanglements, and a betrayal between the sisters, the events of their life loom larger than politics. However, they become caught up in the events of the Nigerian civil war, in which the lgbo people fight an impassioned struggle to establish Biafra as an independent republic, ending in chilling violence which shocks the entire country and the world. (Based on a true story)
Review by Louise Keller:
The political turbulence of newly independent Nigeria in 1960 is the backdrop for this potent human drama in which class, discrimination, adultery and sisterly relationships are central. Based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi, TV director's Biyi Bandele's passionate debut film hits its mark with a compelling exposition and the interspersed black and white newsreel footage puts the historic events into context, yet the combination of these two elements results in a fractured outcome. Consequently I felt taken out of the story, which could do nothing but distance me from the characters. Nonetheless, with its effective depiction of the bustling colours of Africa, this is a profound and insightful glimpse into a troubled nation and the consequences on its people.
After establishment newsreel footage, the action begins on October 1, 1960, the day Nigeria became independent from the United Kingdom. During the celebrations, our focus is on two beautiful, strong sisters, and whose privileged background has allowed them the luxury of making their own choices. Thandie Newton shoulders much of the film as Olanna, the twin who opts for a 'revolutionary' lover in the intellectual Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), while Anika Rose plays her twin sister Kainene, whose interests beyond that of a businesswoman, extend to Richard (Joseph Mawle), an English writer with a personality by-pass. Ejiofor is solid in the role so it is disappointing that there is not more chemistry between him and Newton, as well as that between Male and Rose.
Much of the narrative plays out like a TV melodrama as Ugwu (John Boyega), the loyal houseboy who sees everything, witnesses the domestic highs and lows - instances of adultery and the high-conflict between Olanna and Odenigbo's bush-town mother (Onyeka Onwenu). Mama is a great character, with generous hips and a temper to match and Onwenu is a formidable presence.
Bandele seems so intent on conveying the all-important facts about the Nigerian conflict, coups, riots and turmoil during the establishment of Biafra as an independent republic that it is done to the detriment of the human drama. It is only in sequences like the wedding and one shocking airport scene that explode with tension and angst that the film's pulse feels as though it is beating at its strongest.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that the political events are depicted with extreme accuracy by way of the mood portrayed. I was a child during the independence of another African nation in 1960 - the Belgian Congo - and the pain, loss and uncertainty that Bandele captures here mirrors my own experiences. It surprises me that despite my own personal connection, I was not more affected by the film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Achingly heartfelt as a story of a people's tragedy through civil war, Half of a Yellow Sun is Biyi Bandele debut feature, and the story, told through two sisters and their partners, resonates with all the highly charged elements of life, from love and hate to fear and murder on a large scale. Told chronologically with newsreel footage inserted as relevant, the film serves as a personalised history lesson of the birth of Biafra.
Thandie Newton as Olanna and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Odenigbo her partner, carry the film's weight on their capable shoulders, but there are notable supporting performances including John Boyega as Ugwdu, Odenigbo's faithful, diligent houseboy, whose journey is one of the most satisfying elements in the film.
Anika Noni Rose delivers a slightly mannered performance as Olanna's sister Kainene, but she does capture our attention. Joseph Mawle is great as her husband Richard, a weak character with reserves of courage and love. Onyeka Onwenu makes a big impression (literally) as Odenigbo's Mama, and most of the smaller supports are also terrific.
There are stilted moments and slackly paced scenes, and the storytelling is sometimes hard to follow, but Bandele's feel for the dramatic appears intuitive, both in examples of violent action and intimate conflict. It's a story worth telling to a world that was aware of the events - as the newsreels demonstrate - but which has largely forgotten and certainly never knew the full inside story of the tribal hatreds that fuelled the killings.
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HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (M)
CAST: Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, John Boyega, Genevieve Nnaji, Onyeka Onwenu
PRODUCER: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan
DIRECTOR: Biyi Bandele
SCRIPT: Biyi Bandele (novel by Chimamanda Ngozi)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John de Borman
EDITOR: Chris Gill
MUSIC: Ben Onono, Paul Thomson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrew McAlpine
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Leap Frog Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 20, 2014