I’ve got a confession to make.
I didn’t like the first Mamma Mia! film.
I do feel justified in this. It wasn’t that I disliked it for all the same reasons that all the other boring old men disliked it. I love musicals and fun cheesy films that exist just to make people happy. I’m no film snob.
Unfortunately, I am a Mamma Mia! snob.
Some pieces of media are just very near and dear to your heart. It’s why people get angry about adaptations even though the original media will still exist, and it just means you get even more content of the thing you love. Usually, this is the attitude I try to take with adaptations. I really was excited when I heard they were making a Mamma Mia! film. But two factors affected my ability to appreciate the film as additional content: 1. The original content was a stage musical, with a specific cast, meaning it isn’t something I still easily have access to; and 2. The film was immensely more popular, and many people do not even know it was a stage musical first.
I should explain. I’ve never listened to ABBA in my life. I was not approaching Mamma Mia! in the same way as everyone else; ready to watch an A-List cast prancing around in Greece singing 80s classics. I was raised on the Broadway cast recording of Mamma Mia! and have been a fan of it since I was about 6. So even other people who agreed with me in not enjoying the film versions of the songs would still invariably favour a version of the song I was unfamiliar with.
This was, in fact, not the first time I had this problem. It also happened with Mary Poppins and The Lion King, both of which were of course films before they were musicals, but both of which I have not seen the film for to this day. And I think the fact that they are musicals makes it harder to deal with; I’m fine with changes in the story or dialogue, but changes in the songs throws me completely. The songs are hard-wired into my brain. And the versions I know are the ones that no one else does, that are never going to be played by someone else. Every time someone plays one of the more popular versions of the songs and a line or melody changes, it feels like a betrayal. It is isolation. Add to that the fact that my two favourite songs, Under Attack and Knowing Me, Knowing You didn’t appear in the first film, and, well.
Anyway, to cut an even longer dramatic ramble short, none of these expectations were laid at the feet of Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. I was also 10 years older, and now an adult. That probably helped too. I loved that film. It made me happy, it made me cry. It’s just a good time that completely destroys you emotionally. Good stuff.
But while I truly enjoyed Mamma Mia 2 and understand why events had to unfold the way they did for the plot to work, it didn’t agree with my own long-held interpretations of the characters based on the original musical. I did love the portrayal of Bill – although, including Sofia in the film without making any reference to her being Bill’s great aunt was a bit, er, odd – but the songs SOS/Knowing Me, Knowing You and Our Last Summer suggest to me that Sam and Harry were a little more than one-night stands. So, without further twaddle, here’s my own understanding of Donna’s relationship with each of the dad’s, that still allowed for each to be Sophie’s possible father.
Harry. Ah, Harry. Harry was clearly an old boyfriend if Our Last Summer is anything to go by, with whom things ended amicably. In my mind, Harry was Donna’s boyfriend throughout university. They had a nice time, they were fond of each other, they were good pals, but when it came to graduation, they both knew there wasn’t any real future there. It’d been fun, but there was no passion, not least because Harry was gay. They remained friends, but it was Ye Olde Days, so they fell out of touch after Donna moved to a remote Greek island. Still, on their last night together, they banged. Obviously.
Sam. Sam and Donna knew each other from a young age, and that was the problem. They grew up together, and as they grew older there was attraction there, but they were just that bit too close to be able to accept it. Because it was weird. Because they were almost like siblings as kids. So they flirted, and they had a weird, almost romantic relationship, but they never actually did anything. But they were too involved with each other to date anyone else either. Until, of course, they went off to separate universities. Sam remained single. Donna dated Harry. It was an uncomfortable three years.
According to Sam, he was the one who first brought her to the island. Which works with the childhood friends thing. They went there – as friends, of course – as teenagers, and continued to go there for several summers. After Donna graduated and broke up with Harry, she went to spend her summer somewhere familiar – the island. Sam was there. While she’d been dating Harry, he’d been slowly realising he had feelings for her. And she had had some distance from him, and it seemed like he’d gotten much older and more handsome over the last three years. And now they were both single. So, they had sex. Obviously.
Bill. Bill was the great-nephew of the woman they stayed with out on the island. The film portrayal is actually pretty spot on here – he’s fun, he’s flirty, a bit of a playboy. He’d always been around every time Donna had visited the island, and they got on. He’s handsome. After sleeping with Sam, Donna had a minor panic attack. Why did she sleep with Sam? She had known him forever. OBVIOUSLY she could never have FEELINGS for Sam, so obviously she was just the kind of gal who has one-night stands now. So she completely ghosted Sam, got drunk, and slept with Bill. Obviously.
It didn’t make her feel any better, so maybe no, she wasn’t the kind of gal who had one-night stands now. Never mind. Bill never made it weird, and they stayed on good terms. Sam disappeared back to the mainland without Donna saying goodbye, but she went to Bill’s leaving party when he went off to travel the world and become a writer.
So there you are. For me, this explanation works with the energy Donna has with each of the dad’s in the original Mamma Mia!, while also fitting with the timeline for Sophie. Of course, it’s just for fun, but to me this makes more sense than what was portrayed in the second film – though I imagine this would be rather harder to structure and fit ABBA songs around.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the story we were told in the second film? Let me know down below.