My fears that this was going to be a limp rehash of the original, as so many sequels tend to be, were certainly realised at first. The film gets off to a shaky start by plastering on the ‘Richard Curtis’ effect (he is credited as contributing to the script) of a romanticised rather than real England.
We open at the start of an annoyingly inaccurate Oxford university graduation ceremony, showing students gathered in their college. Call me picky, but that is not how it works. The grand communal ceremony takes place in the Sheldonian Theatre, but this and other details are shrugged aside as Donna, her mates Tanya and Rosie, Celia Imrie and a bunch of others throw off their gowns, burst into the first (forgettable) Abba song, cycle through unrecognisable country lanes before perching on a rooftop to drink wine in front of an almost certainly painted backdrop of dreaming spires. The drinking wine bit is wholly accurate, granted…
More to the point, what on earth is the significance of depicting Donna as an Oxford graduate other than as an excuse for a music hall knees up and to lay it on thick that she HAS A BRAIN? Because having got that off their chests, she never sets foot on British soil again.
However, the film improves as it goes along, due mainly to the electrifying presence of Lily James who steals the movie from a sickly sweet Amanda Seyfried and bored-to-a-standstill Dominic Cooper and a fairly lackadaisical Pierce Brosnan. Sadly Lily’s energy and talent only emphasise the enormous and unexplained hole left by Meryl Streep.
As far as the music goes, it is sheer laziness to reheat several Abba numbers from the first film, even if they are brilliant favourites such as Dancing Queen. Is their catalogue so limited that they couldn’t have recorded an entirely original soundtrack? Other than the music, it was the reworked/glamorised version of the Seventies fashion that had me hooked. If only such tailoring and gorgeous, non-crimplene fabrics had existed when I was a teenager…
Which brings me to Cher, whose sequin embroidered flares I furiously covet. Yes, she looks amazing in her costumes, but am I the only person who found it disconcerting to hear that mellifluous, powerful voice booming out of a soft-lit, motionless mask? And what was the point of Andy Garcia? Other than cranking out a decent rendition of Fernando I could not understand a single word of his dialogue!
The greatest relief from all that misty-eyed staring, misunderstandings and predictability were the rare gems of comedy supplied by Rosie, who seemed, when played by Alexa Davies, to be obsessed by cake as the cure for all ills. Perhaps I was desperate by then, but I laughed out loud at Julie Walters’ inability to keep up with the various dance routines. Omid Djalilli delivered a hilarious cameo as the passport controller at the end of the jetty passing judgement on how everyone had aged. Actually pretty well, I’d say. The three dads dialled in their performances amiably enough, but their younger counterparts were pale, wooden imitations in comparison.
This felt like a lazy, reheated, cynical, money-spinning people-pleaser but my heart isn’t entirely made of stone. Even though Meryl Streep’s one appearance yet again highlighted the lack of real soul in the rest of the film, I did cry, like everyone else, at her beautiful duet with Lily James.