Half of a Yellow Sun Rebecca-Barry'S REVIEW

There’s a lot going for this on paper: a revered cast, with 12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in the leads; strong performances, particularly Onyka Onwenu in the role of Mama; solid background material in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel. But perhaps one of the characters sums it up best: “I feel as if I have been dropped into something I don’t entirely understand.”

Billing itself as a love story set against the backdrop of war, this $8m Nigerian film suffers a disconnect between the two, as though the romance could exist, quite comfortably, on a beach in California. It also suffers from a lack of love – and not just between the protagonists. As the atrocities of war rage on, the shock of its most awful crimes feels at odds with the soap opera treatment of the central characters’ personal dramas. You can’t blame war for being nasty to your girlfriend or sister.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s political history is explained through the use of historical black and white footage. This provides context but gives the film an educational feel, as director Biyi Bandele struggles to condense the multitude of the novel’s stories (hence the title, perhaps). Nor does it help that many of the characters are unlikeable, particularly the woefully passive Richard. But the film’s biggest flaw is its clunky screenplay. The dialogue is so on the nose, its stars have no choice but to overplay every line.