‘The magic of Mamma Mia is in the unconditional love of family’

As a lifelong Abba superfan, Annabelle Leith was destined to love Mamma Mia. But the real magic of the musical is what it says about family, she writes.

'The magic of Mamma Mia is in the unconditional love of family'
Sophie and Donna in Mamma Mia! The Movie. Photo: Universal Pictures

I love Mamma Mia, plain and simple. There's no hiding it – I'm a die-hard fan. It stems from my love for Abba, of course.

It must have been passed down from my mum.

I grew up with a lot of Abba in my household. It wasn't uncommon for Dancing Queen or Thank You For The Music to be blasted through the speakers while she was cleaning the house or we were in the car – or at any other given opportunity for that matter.

I don't think there was a specific moment in my life when I realized that I loved Abba, because it's a love that's been there for as long as I can remember.

It's got to the point now where if I'm on a night out and an Abba song comes on, I'm on FaceTime to my mum within a second, and she'll dance and sing along with me wherever she is (usually by that point in the evening it's in bed waking my dad up with her singing).

QUIZ: How much do you really know about Abba?

When I was younger I was often called Dancing Queen by my friends and family, due to the fact that I was dancing at every opportunity there was, more times than not to an Abba classic. My younger sister and I would always make up dance routines and perform them to our parents during the adverts on TV.

That's probably where my love for musicals stems from. I've always loved to dance and perform. I even love to sing, even though I sound like a strangled cat, but that's never stopped me from belting out off-key notes as The Winner Takes It All begins to play.

In other words, I was destined to be a Mamma Mia super fan.

I was ten when Mamma Mia! The Movie first came out, and I still remember clear as day the first time I watched it. My mum took me to the cinema with her friend and when we got there the queue was out the door. It was so busy that we didn't even get to see the first showing, and had to wait for the next one an hour later.

Watching the film was a surreal experience. Usually in a cinema people are scorned for sneezing, let alone singing. But every single song had people clapping and singing along to their hearts' content, including me of course, maybe even a little too loud. The power of the film really struck me, the way it was so uplifting and so joyous, I completely fell in love with it and how it made me feel.

My mum and I loved the film so much that we went to see it again with our Swedish family when we went over to visit, we simply could not get enough of it.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the Abba reunion

I got the DVD when it was first released and it was all I watched for months. It got to the point where I could quote the movie almost word for word – I probably still could now. I would watch it every night until I fell asleep, I loved dozing off to the chatter and the music.

A whole decade has now passed since Mamma Mia hit our screens, so I think it's fair to say that my excitement levels are through the roof for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again to be released in cinemas in just a week's time.

Will it be as good as the original? I can't see how it wouldn't be. I have always been able to rely on Mamma Mia to lift my spirits and put a smile on my face no matter what mood I'm in, and I'm hoping the second one will do just as good a job at that.

I was lucky enough to get to go to the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again press conference in Stockholm to represent The Local Sweden, and to be just two metres away from the cast of the film and Abba's Benny and Björn, yes, Benny and Björn, was completely overwhelming but amazing at the same time.

Needless to say my mum was completely jealous. Speaking of which, we'll be going to watch the new film together of course. The shared love we have for Abba and Mamma Mia makes it even more special to go and watch it with each other.

I remember being in the cinema and watching the scene where Donna, played by Meryl Streep, helps her daughter Sophie prepare for her wedding day in the original film. Donna was singing Slipping Through My Fingers, and, through her tears, my mum leaned over, took my hand and whispered to me “I hope one day when it's your wedding we'll get to do the same, if you'll let me” and smiled.

Whenever I watch that scene now I always think of the relationship between my mum and I and how similar it is to Donna and Sophie's, and it makes me feel so happy, appreciative and lucky to have a mum as wonderful as mine.

And I think that's the magic of Mamma Mia. Though of course it follows the typical story line of a girl loving a boy, it also has such a huge focus on the unconditional love of family, in particular between a mother and a daughter. And that, to me, is beautiful. 

Annabelle Leith is a journalism student at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, currently doing a summer internship with The Local Sweden in Stockholm. Follow her on Twitter here.

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OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Swedes have a reputation as a nation of orderly queuers. But it doesn't take long living here before you realise that for things that matter - housing, schools, health treatment - there are ways of jumping the line.

OPINION: How I learned that Sweden is a nation of secret queue-jumpers

Soon after my daughter was born, I emailed Malmö’s sought after daycare cooperatives to get on their waiting lists. 

I didn’t get an answer from any of them, so a year later, I began dropping her off at the daycare allotted to us by the municipality. 

It was housed in a concrete structure so grim-looking that it was used as the gritty backdrop to the police station in The Bridge, the Scandinavian Noir crime drama based in Malmö. Getting there involved taking a lift that frequently smelled of urine. The rooftop playground was (after we had left) used by local dealers to stash drugs.

But to be fair, it was close to our house and in other ways, perfectly adequate. 

A year later, though, I got a call from one of the cooperatives I had emailed. My daughter Eira was next in line. Did I want to come to meet the staff and existing parents?

When I arrived, I discovered I wasn’t alone. My friend, a Swede looking to establish herself in Malmö after a decade in London, was there, as were several others.

Listen to a discussion about queue-jumping on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

I soon had a distinct feeling of being outmanoeuvered, as I watched her identify the parents in charge of new intakes and get to work on them, asking intelligent questions, demonstrating her engagement, and generally turning on the charm. 

A few days later I discovered that, even though I’d been told Eira was top of the list, my friend’s son had got the place. 

This was my first lesson in Swedish queuing, and it is a pattern I’ve seen time and time again.

Swedes, I’ve learned, generally respect a queue if it’s visible, physical, and not about anything particularly important. But when it comes to waiting lists for things such as housing, schools, and healthcare, many people, perhaps even most, will work their contacts, pull strings, find loopholes, if it helps them jump the line. 

When it was time for the children of the parents I knew to go to school, several of them — all otherwise upstanding law-abiding people — temporarily registered themselves at the addresses of friends who lived near the desirable municipal options, and then, after their children got places, moved back.

When I protested weakly that by doing this were depriving someone else’s child of their rightful place, they simply shrugged. 

When Eira joined Malmöflickorna, a dance gymnastics troupe that is a kind of Malmö institution, the other parents whispered to me that joining the troupe helped you get your child into Bladins, Malmö’s most exclusive free school, as the troupe had longstanding links. 

When it comes to accessing health treatment, I’ve learned, it doesn’t pay to stoically wait in line. When I was recently sent for a scan, I immediately rang up the clinic my primary health care centre had chosen for me. The receptionist spotted a time that had just become free the next day, and slotted me in, saving what could have been months of waiting. 

If you’re looking to buy a house, I’m told it pays to develop good relationships with estate agents, as sometimes they will sell a house without even listing it. And there are all sorts of ways to jump the long rental queues in Swedish cities, some involving paying money, some simply exploiting contacts. 

I’m not, myself, much of an operator, but I’ve also learned to take advantage of any opportunities that crop up. 

A year after we had lost our battle for the daycare place, the same Swedish friend got in touch. She had managed to upgrade to an even more sought-after cooperative. (This one has had world-famous novelists and Oscar-contending film directors as present and former parents.)

There was a place free, and she was in charge of the queue. Did we want it for Eira? The queue at this daycare, I soon discovered, was pure fiction. The municipality has since cracked down, but at the time, places went to the friends and contacts of whichever parents happened to be on the board, or failing that, to people in the queue who seemed the right kind of person. 

It didn’t seem right, but of course, we took the place.