If you find yourself wilting under the oppressive heat of a summer’s day, you’ll need something airy and insubstantial to chase your cares away. And this summer Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the movie most likely to sweep you up in its irresistible wake and leave a smile on your sweaty, sunburned face to boot.
The young, naive, newlywed Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) we left behind in 2008’s Mamma Mia has been replaced by a self-assured and independent woman. We join her in a time of contemplation as she prepares to open a revamped and refined Hotel Bella Donna. Stuffing envelopes and singing Thank You For the Music in poignant acknowledgement of her mom’s contribution to the big day.
Meanwhile another life is being lived in another place and time. A life lived in explosive colour, with infectious smiles and impetuous decisions. This is Donna’s backstory – brought endearingly to life by Lily James. While the later (Meryl Streep) incarnation of Donna beams beatifically from the hotel walls in Sophie’s present, here in Donna’s own past she is flesh and blood, foolish and free.
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On the day of her graduation she is characteristically late but still manages to bring the house down. Singing a stonking version of When I Kissed the Teacher, in lieu of reciting a rousing speech, shod in outrageous platforms and backed up by a pair of very familiar faces. The Dynamos have returned! This time in the persons of Alexa Davies (as Rosie) and Jessica Keenan-Wynn – whose younger Tanya is so uncannily like Christine Baranski she could be CGI!
Sophie and husband Sky are now parted by an ocean and diverging visions for their lives. The vows of a love that would last forever, exchanged in a cliff top chapel, seeming to have been spoken a lifetime ago. They share a duet from afar – One of Us – meeting only in shared reflections in a scene that is strikingly edited. In fact Peter Lambert’s structural edit is to be commended too. It dances between present and past as nimbly as any of the cast can bop, with an effortlessness which was lacking in the emotionally clumsy original film.
Something which both films do equally share is a joy in Donna’s dizzyingly complicated love life. Though again the sequel handles matters with a far more appealing emotional palette. Recognising the shades of grey and genuine feelings contained in Donna’s accidental love square rather than playing it purely for laughs. Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) and Harry (Colin Firth) all eventually make a return to Kalokairi but it is in their younger selves that we find more answers.
Hugh Skinner as young Harry, in particular, brings a bumbling charm to his ‘seduction’ of Donna. Dispensing with his virginity with very English charm. AND he manages to make Waterloo seem far less annoying than it has even been before – in a fabulously choreographed restaurant scene – so deserves all the Brownie points one can award. Josh Dylan as young Bill is worthy of remark too, he brings dimension and twinkle to rather a generic rogue. Unfortunately Sam (Jeremy Irvine) remains the least appealing option, in past and future mode.
For those who value them, the tangled love stories are still at the heart of the story but this time around the female friendships have been fleshed out and they are a joy to behold. Ol Parker’s screenplay and direction, and that dancing edit, do a beautiful job splicing the stories in such a way that young Rosie’s hopeless crush on Bill moves from comical to affecting as we view it through adult Rosie’s eyes. Julie Walters brings every ounce of her talent to bear as she flits effortlessly between those moods to bridge the years.
Naturally Cher (Cher!) comes closest to stealing the show. Her gloriously languid Fernando, targeted straight at Andy Garcia’s broken heart, steals all our hearts as his is healing. But Ms Streep is not one to be upstaged. Her vocal on My Love, My Life, sung with Amanda Seyfried and Lily James, will ensure that this easy, breezy (slightly cheesy) film stays with you for far longer than you might expect.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again opens across the UK on Friday 20th July