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In Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

In Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

by Maryann O'Connor on 12/04/2014

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half of a yellow sun

Watching Biyi Bandele’s depiction of a Nigeria in transition is like receiving a sharp elbow to the ribs;  first it takes your breath and then it hurts. Nigeria 1960: hardly any time passes between the glorious party to mark independence and the stark, brutal decimation of the old order. We witness all of this through the perspective of a family pushed to the edge of their comfort levels, stuck in the middle of personal and civil war.

Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) are two sisters who appear to have all the opportunities in the world at their feet; a well-off family, education and willing suitors. Olanna’s other half, ‘the revolutionary’ (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as her sister calls him, is a professor at a university in Nsukka, where Olanna joins him at the department of sociology. Her sister takes over family business interests in Port Harcourt. This part of the film, where Olanna struggles with her other half’s mum’s disapproval and relationship issues, is pure pain pinball – pain being inflicted by one person’s insecurities and half-baked ideas on the next person, onto the next person after that. But this is all forgotten when the civil war hits and their little family find themselves suddenly unwelcome where they are living. Then we reach the real pain on offer; the pain of being unable to settle anywhere, the pain of not being certain of anything.

The individual powerful moments of the film are far greater than the whole but that’s not to say that the whole is at all a slouch. It’s just that the individual scenes of pain and drama are very memorable. It is definitely Thandie Newton’s film despite strong performances from Ejiofor and John Boyega. Rose suffers from being a little wooden at times but that might just be fall-out from her super-stiff posh accent. The discussion about colonialism and the nature of racism is thought-provoking when it appears.

Half of a Yellow Sun is an emotional watch but doesn’t feel very much like a love story, as it seems to be billed.  It gives us the reality of life, the everyday strain of living through a war and the hopeless inescapability of persecution when you are on the ‘wrong’ side.

  Maryann has awarded Half of a Yellow Sun four Torches of Truth


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