If, a few years ago during the height of his James Bond-inspired superstardom, you’d told Pierce Brosnan that his next genuine global smash hit was going to be a musical, he’d probably have called security. If, while being dragged away by burley bodyguards, you’d screamed out to him that it was not just going to be a musical, but a musical based on the music of kitsch Scandinavian favourites ABBA, he’d most likely have run over to help the muscle escort you out of the building. Because it is, let’s face it, not that plausible that any former James Bond – well, bar possibly Roger Moore – would carry off such a role.
But this is Pierce Brosnan we’re talking about, a man so keen to shake off his past as Bond that he’s appeared in a film wearing little more than a pair of Y-fronts, cowboy boots and a moustache (in 2005’s The Matador), trying to look as sexually unappealing as he possibly could. A man who’s also cropped up with a scraggly beard and covered in mud and dust (in 2006’s Seraphim Falls), before putting in a turn as a sociopathic kidnapper working with brutal efficiency to destroy a happy family for no apparent reason (2007’s Butterfly on a Wheel). So eclectic have been his post-Bond film choices that only one thing ties them together – the characters must be as utterly unlike James Bond as physically possible. So what better than a big screen version of a camp West End musical?
But it’s not just Brosnan who’s been drawn in to this musical tale of a woman who, on the eve of her wedding, attempts to discover which of three possible men from her mother’s past is her father. The other two possible dads are equally surprising additions to an Abba-based musical. Stellan Skarsgard? He may well have played Orlando Bloom’s dad in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, but he’s still best known for playing slightly psychotic villains or cropping up in intelligent European Art House flicks – not prancing around to 1970s pop. And then there’s Colin Firth. He’s not one to shirk from self-mockery, as his turns in the Bridget Jones films show, but rarely before known for volunteering for public humiliation through song and dance numbers. And what about the most surprising cast member of all? She may well be one of Hollywood’s most versatile actresses, but Meryl Streep? In a musical? Yes, she has been in a stage musical before, but that was back at the start of her career and was written by the decidedly highbrow duo of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, rather than Eurovision’s favourite foursome Benny, Björn, Frida and Agnetha.
Nonetheless, when the success of the film version of Chicago is taken into account, you can understand the appeal that Mamma Mia! must have had for the participants. Chicago did, after all, garner Oscar nominations for all its main actors, as well as a Best Actress statuette for Catherine Zeta Jones. Barely any of the cast of that film adaptation of a stage play had any prior musical experience either. Meryl Streep may already have picked up her fair share of Oscars, but the three male leads are still yet to even receive nominations. Considering how insanely popular the stage version has been – it has been performed in countless different languages around the world and picked up innumerable awards – all involved must have been hoping to repeat Chicago’s success.
With a cast as strong as this, little wonder that – at least in terms of the quality of the end product – they have more than succeeded. Fans of the stage version will be ecstatic and with the draw of big name stars Mamma Mia! is bound to suck in a whole new range of fans. Whether the Academy will respond with Oscar nods it is still far too early to tell, but if Chicago deserved such accolades, then Mamma Mia! certainly does.