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10 years of Mamma Mia!


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With the success of Catherine Johnson's hit stage musical, Mamma Mia! (or as it is originally known, Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus' Mamma Mia!) in the West End, Broadway and worldwide, it was inevitable that the Hollywood bigwigs would cast envious eyes towards the show and seek to adapt it into a film.

Adaptations are often very much a mixed bag when it comes to results, both crticially and commercially. You have some absolutely wonderful and fantastic examples like The Wizard of Oz, Moonlight and Les Miserables, and then again, you could end up with some absolute duds like the absolutely tragic Picture of Dorian Gray adaptation. It often depends on the creative genius deployed behind the script and to a stronger extent, behind the cast in the adaptation. They are expected to be able to step into already defined roles and make them uniquely theirs, something which is never going to be easy. 

Released way back in 2008, the adaptation of the musical featuring the hits of Swedish pop legends ABBA would go on to become the highest grossing live-action musical until 2017's Beauty and the Beast. Mamma Mia! tells the story of Sophie Sheridan, a young woman who invites three mysterious men to her wedding on the island of Kalokairi, without telling her mother Donna. It transpires that all three men potentially have a claim to being her father! As Donna grapples with the three pasts in an attempt to understand the present, Sophie must step out of her mother’s shadow to live her own life and embrace her future with Sky, her fiancé. Although this is by no means a bad plot, it is hardly the intricacy and complexity of something like, Citizen Kane. 

Perhaps with this in mind, Mamma Mia! came out all guns blazing when it came to casting, involving Hollywood icons Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard, possibly to combat the casting of somewhat unknown but equally talented Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper as Sophie Sheridan and Sky respectively.

By casting such huge names, immediately the film made critics sit up and take notice. A number of these actors had little to no singing experience and performing whilst beautifully serenading such classics as ‘Voulez-Vous’, ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ is starkly different to belting the songs out slightly sozzled at the University Karaoke Thursdays in the student pub. 

But ultimately, the star power was a real driver for the film's success. Would many people have seen the film anyway? Probably if they were ABBA or musical fans in general, but the sheer names attached heightened public interest. Meryl Streep singing? It turns out she had opera lessons as a child and had previously sung in stuff like Postcards from the Edge, proving her credentials.

On the other hand is Pierce Brosnan, who attracts attention for all the wrong reasons, showing the emotional capacity of a shoehorn and the singing ability of one too, for that matter. It was no surprise to see him nab the Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actor after his shambolic performance, but in his defence, it is hard to be the alpha male up against Skarsgard and Firth. 

It wasn’t a massive critical success either. Perhaps suffocated by the incessant Swedish pop which pervades the entire film- you rarely go five minutes without someone threatening to break into one of the classic hits- most reviewers gave a middling response. Streep’s acting was praised as always, and the cinematography was praised as being clear, precise and sharp. The framing of the Greek island of Kalokairi certainly is a pleasure to watch for the film fans who salivate over panning shots and obsess over the correct angles when filming. But the critics weren’t willing to forgive the convoluted plot, campy tones and downright awful acting at times.

Yet for the more casual film fan, all the way through to the ABBA fanatic, it was a different story. Mamma Mia! was light-hearted, casual and fun, with a strong soundtrack of classic hits from every era of ABBA’s heydays.

Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried may have stolen the show, but behind-the-scenes clips showed a camp who were utterly delighted during production. It was less of a job and more of an impromptu holiday, with some singing and dancing on camera interspersed amongst beach trips, late night parties and copious amounts of cocktails.

Post-production editing passed smoothly and unsurprisingly, Mamma Mia! was soon raking in the cash. By the time it had finished at the box office, it had grossed a total of $615.7 million worldwide, making massive returns on its relatively paltry $52 million production budget. The film did particularly well in the United Kingdom, which is unsurprising considering the popularity of ABBA’s music and the West End success of the original musical. To the day, it still holds the impressive accolade of being the 9th highest UK Box Office grosses of all time, making £69.2 million as of 23rd January 2009.

Mamma Mia! is never going to be a piece of cinematic mastery. It is a light, fluffy film, the sort that Channel 4 executives happily place into the Christmas night schedule just after Boxing Day. It looks a bit old now, but it is still fun enough to watch.

As such, it is no surprise to see most of the cast returning ten years later for another shot at beach fun and games abroad, but the premise of an origin story interspersed with future events is intriguing to say the least. Promising to include all the most loved ABBA hits, as well as some of the lesser known hidden gems, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! could potentially be the big box office hit of the summer, as far as the adult market is concerned. Of course, Hollywood is all about profit and ‘The Winner Takes It All’, but there is no reason why Here We Go Again! should be ‘Waterloo’ as far as Mamma Mia! is concerned.

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