Half of a Yellow Sun is constructed around the proven formula of personal drama against the backdrop of political upheaval. The personal drama involves the many infidelities – and repercussions that follow – of a group of Nigerian bourgeoisie played by the likes of Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anika Noni Rose and John Boyega. The political upheaval centres on the civil war that consumed the nation as it was torn between warring tribes. Unfortunately, despite the capable cast, the formula fails in this instance.
Biyi Bandele’s film shares many of the problems of another African drama set against political turmoil – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – in that it rushes headlong through plot points without establishing either engaging characters or an authentic sense of place. The first half of the film is dominated low stakes melodrama, which would be entirely fine if our characters were fleshed out. Instead we dart from plot point to plot point, with meet-cutes tumbling into cheating tumbling into unbidden pregnancies, and never get a real sense of the people involved.
This means that when the explosions and violence kicks in, we have little sympathy or interest in the characters, so any of the expected emotion falls flat. Disappointing.