Half of a Yellow Sun review: history with a romantic flourish

Half of a Yellow Sun green light

Oh what a lovely film! As romance and history, this is by turns funny and tragic, suspenseful and celebratory, and never less than solidly entertaining.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Chiwetel Ejiofor

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oh what a lovely film! The feature debut of screenwriter and director Biyi Bandele tells the tale of Nigeria in the 1960s, from independence through civil war, through the eyes of two sisters and the different roads they followed for their lives. Twins Olanna (Thandie Newton: Vanishing on 7th Street) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose: For Colored Girls) are more openly liberated than even many women in the U.S. or the U.K. at the time would have been, and more than even their wealthy, progressive family in Lagos is completely happy with. No matter to them! They have their careers and their lovers: Olanna is with university professor Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 Years a Slave), and Kainene, somewhat despairingly to Olanna’s mind, with a white Englishman, Richard (Joseph Mawle: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Before the civil war, pleasantly engaging romantic drama — the details of which I wouldn’t dare spoil because some of them are pretty juicy — intertwines with the sorts of languid intellectual discussions Odenigbo enjoys, about the legacy of British colonialism and what it means to be African… matters that become urgent as tribalism flares and the nation falls into strife. Then, ad hoc families — like the one Olanna and Odenigbo have created, which includes the houseboy, Ugwu (John Boyega: Attack the Block), who’s worked for the prof since he was 13 — cling to one another, and those once comfortable are forced into lives as refugees, lives of deprivation and fear. Wonderfully straightforward as history — and very enlightening for those who may not have previously been aware, as I was not, of the formative events in this important and influential nation — and deeply emotional as romantic soap opera, this is a film by turns funny and tragic, suspenseful and celebratory, and never less than solidly entertaining.

viewed during the 57th BFI London Film Festival

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