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Half of a Yellow Sun


Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, John Boyega, Onyeka Onwenu, Genevieve Nnaji, Rob David, Paul Hampshire, Susan Wokoma

Director: Biyi Bandele

Not so much epic as episodic, this is a confused if occasionally rewarding account (adapted from a 450-page book and it shows) of Nigeria's violent growing pains after its independence in 1960. Tribal rivalries and jealousies are, as so often, the cause, as the Igbos are eventually driven to the south-east of the country, where they declare the ill-fated independent nation of Biafra.

The story focuses on twin sisters (disturbingly, Rose and Newton look nothing alike: even their skin tones are different) and their romantic entanglements, which gradually become swallowed up by the internal conflict that rips the country apart.

Olanna (Newton) and Kainene (Rose) are university graduates from a wealthy Igbo family. Olanna, about to embark on a career that will never happen, is involved with the firebrand Odenigbo (Ejiofor) but he betrays her with a girl that his mother (Onwenu), who disapproves of high-born Olanna, has brought to tempt him.

Olanna, in revenge, throws herself at Richard (Mawle), her sister's white lover.

There's a baby from Odenigbo's indiscretion, but eventually the pairings sort themselves out.

Bandele seems to want this to be a sort of Nigerian answer to Gone With the Wind, but its plot devices are often novelettish and its fractured storyline extremely difficult to follow, especially which faction is dealing out atrocities to another; and it often takes a few seconds to realise that the story has jolted forward months or even years. Acting is certainly OK without exactly setting the continent on fire.

The ending strangely suggests that the characters are real, when in fact they are not.

David Quinlan

UK/Nigeria 2012. UK Distributor: Soda Pictures (Ealing Metro/BFI Films). Technicolor.
111 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 06 Apr 2014