Civil wars lend themselves to epic storytelling on the scale of “Gone With the Wind.”

Such is the case with the Nigerian war of the late 1960s, which divided a country at the same time it inspired a gifted writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to create a 2006 best-seller with the expressive title, “Half of a Yellow Sun.”

Unfortunately, in Biyi Bandele’s choppy new film adaptation of Adiche’s 542-page novel, the sexual relationships overpower the politics. The sometimes sudsy drama occasionally recalls the campiness of “White Mischief.” Like many a lengthy novel, it might have worked better as a television series.

Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor do generate some sparks as a couple who can’t get enough of each other as the country dramatically falls apart. As a radical professor, Ejjofor brings passion and intelligence to his role.

As his easily distracted mistress, condemned by the professor’s troubled mother as “a witch,” Newton never fails to engage.

They’re observed by a mostly mute houseboy who acts as the story’s conscience. If the filmmakers had taken a more balanced approach to emphasizing his viewpoint, the picture might have been more compelling.

But the street confrontations are effectively staged — and timely. Nigeria has been in the news lately, and Bandele’s film is at its best when it suggests immediacy.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com