Mamma Mia! Magic or moronic?

ABBA - Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad - have given us so m

ABBA - Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad - have given us so much. Picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA

Musical Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is out, a decade after the first film. Steven Russell explains why he likes the concept, and a long-suffering work colleague insists he’s wrong

A scene from Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. From left, Julie Walters as Rosie Mulligan, Pierce Brosnan

A scene from Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. From left, Julie Walters as Rosie Mulligan, Pierce Brosnan as Sam Carmichael, Amanda Seyfried as Sophie Sheridan and Christine Baranski as Tanya Chesham-Leigh. Picture: PA Photo/Universal Pictures/Jonathan Prime - Credit: PA

Mamma Mia!? Mamma Marmite, more like. Little has plunged families into cinematic civil war over the past decade more than Mamma Mia! The Movie. Or (like here) brought across-the-desk strife to offices up and down the land. For my colleagues Lynne and Andrew, it’s all Dum Dum Diddle and 109 minutes of purgatory (sneaky reference there to a song from 1976 ABBA album Arrival) and they don’t like it. Me? I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.

The fans are in the majority. The film cost $52m (admittedly, I’d rather that were spent on a hospital or social care) but pulled in $615.7m at the world’s box offices.

If the Mamma Mia! magic passed you by, here’s a catch-up.

The first film came out in 2008 and is a musical romantic comedy (a pretty camp one, too) based on a 1999 musical based on the songs of super-group ABBA. The name comes from ABBA’s 1975 hit Mamma Mia.

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It had a star-studded cast: Meryl Streep (as Greek guesthouse owner Donna), ex-James Bond Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth (still remembered as Mr Darcy), Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters and Dominic Cooper.

The plot is, admittedly, thinner than a 30-year-old bedsheet. Bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan (Seyfried) has invited to her Greek island wedding three men who could each be her father. She’s found out (after snooping through her mum’s diary) that Donna isn’t even sure who the father is.

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Sophie reckons she’ll twig, just by spending a bit of time with them – and dreams of her dad giving her away.

Also in the mix are Donna’s excited former bandmates (played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) who arrive for the nuptials.

Several will-they-won’t-they strands play out over those 109 minutes, with characters breaking out into song at the drop of a hat.

Meryl Streep - fabulous as Donna Sheridan in the first Mamma Mia! film. Picture: Peter Mountain/Univ

Meryl Streep - fabulous as Donna Sheridan in the first Mamma Mia! film. Picture: Peter Mountain/Universal Studios

It’s packed with good tunes, including Honey, Honey; Money, Money, Money; Super Trouper; The Name of the Game; Voulez-Vous; SOS; Does Your Mother Know; The Winner Takes It All; Take a Chance on Me; I Have a Dream/Thank You for the Music – and Dancing Queen.

The strength and appeal of ABBA’s music is one of the not-so-secret secrets of the film’s success. (Book a seat at the Novello Theatre in London’s Aldwych, where the stage musical continues to play, if you doubt its pulling power.)

Yes, the fact Donna doesn’t know which of three men could be the father of her only child requires a major suspension of disbelief on the part of viewers, but, that aside, it’s fun all the way. (The second secret.)

And fun is one of the things sustains a film that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Musicals (such as The Greatest Showman) have become the nation’s Prozac – a no-risk way of buoying our mood during times of uncertainty.

This film would not work, though, without a cast of A-league faces only too willing to act daft, throw themselves wholeheartedly into the project, not fail to disguise their joy in doing so, and in some cases (top prize here to Mr Brosnan) sing so absolutely terribly… and not mind about it one jot.

One critic called the ex-007’s attempt at SOS as “the sound of a man gargling TCP”.

It’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s tongue-in-cheek done professionally – and we’re all sharing the laughter as one. Who could, who would, criticise that?

Little wonder a sequel (prequel, actually) is out in the Trump era. A feelgood movie for the moment…

Most of the cast is back, supplemented by Cher – playing (despite there being only a few years between Cher and Meryl Streep in real life) Donna’s mother.

A pregnant Sophie returns to the Greek island, and we learn about Donna’s past as the story jumps backwards and forwards in time.

Pierce Brosnan has called it “a great antidote to the times we live in”. Got to be better than hitting the bottle, hasn’t it?

Colleague Lynne Mortimer is not impressed.

“Where to start. I think the idea of a juke box musical is to give a good rendition of the artists’ original music inside a contrived narrative. Mamma Mia! is certainly contrived but, in many of the ABBA numbers it recreates, the musical film of Mamma Mia! (as distinct from the stage musical) falls short.

“It compounds the error by casting non-singers in, I presume, a tongue-in-cheek way. Thus you get former-007 Pierce Brosnan given a song to sing, leaving me shaken and unstirred.

“The actors appeared to be having more fun than me. And yet I have friends who loved Mamma Mia! – they bought the CD, for goodness’ sake. For a joyful celebration of ABBA’s music, I would rather listen to… um... ABBA.

“PS: I knew it was hopeless as soon as I learned the hard-to-pronounce Chiquitita is someone’s affectionate nickname… and when I heard Pierce Brosnan sing...”

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