BRIAN VINER: The Abba-loving extroverts are back and they’re just the tonic we need

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Here We Go Again is the perfect title for this keenly awaited sequel to Mamma Mia!, the 2008 hit inspired by the music of Abba.

Not only does it neatly adapt one of the Swedish supergroup’s most familiar lyrics, it also sums up both ways of anticipating the new movie.

There are millions who adored the first film now crying ‘Here we go again’ as an expression of breathless excitement, as they skip merrily to the nearest multiplex.

But the same words can also be muttered in a spirit of eye-rolling cynicism by those who thought the original shallow and silly and regard the sequel as little more than a licence to print money, money, money.

Well, let the cynics stand down. With the delightful Lily James and the indomitable Cher joining those super troupers Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia 2, as I think we can call it, is an absolute blast and just the injection of joyful exuberance we need right now.

Admittedly, Brosnan still hasn’t learned how to carry a tune. Not very far, anyway. And the plot is still less meaty than a vegetarian moussaka and almost as pointless. 

But I was at the world premiere in London on Monday evening and can report that the crowd wore a huge collective grin from start to finish.

Even without the infectious exhilaration of a premiere, it is bound to play to happy audiences. One of them will contain my good friend Avril, who still considers the original the best film she has ever seen.

She stood and applauded at the end, which was quite a statement at Ludlow Assembly Rooms, an auditorium not known for spontaneous displays of wild jubilation. I’m certain she will be no less enthusiastic this time.

The story begins a few years after the events chronicled in the first film, still on the Greek island of Kalokairi — in reality, the Croatian island of Vis — where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper) have hit a rocky patch.

She wants to devote her life to the hotel she is opening in honour of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). He is in New York on business and keen to live there.

But never mind that: this is not a film to dwell on marital disharmony. Nor does it linger for any longer than it has to on a recent family demise.

After all, the Grim Reaper has no place in the sun-kissed, love-addled world of Mamma Mia, except as a reluctant plot device.

Soon, we are whisked back to 1979, with James, beguilingly and with a lovely singing voice, playing the youthful version of Donna. 

I wasn’t sure about the big opening number, the lesser-known Abba song When I Kissed The Teacher, erupting at an Oxford graduation ceremony like a cow out of a matchbox, so implausible and unconvincing does it seem even by Mamma Mia standards.

However, the film soon finds its gloriously jaunty rhythm and, even if you’ve spent the past ten years not giving a Greek fig why exactly Sophie wasn’t sure of her paternity — a toss-up between Sam (Brosnan), Harry (Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) — or, indeed, how Donna ended up on a Greek island in the first place and formed the Dynamos singing group with her two best friends, you might be surprised by how pleasurable it is finding out.

The action keeps skipping back and forth in time, between Sophie’s plans for a lavish opening-night party, attended, of course, by former Dynamos Rosie and Tanya (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, respectively), and events a generation earlier.

Alexa Davies, in particular, is marvellously funny as the younger incarnation of Rosie.

In fact, all the younger versions are notably well cast. Jessica Keenan Wynn is a great match for Baranski, and Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan do solid work as Sam, Harry and Bill in their flat-tummied days.

Andy Garcia has a ball, too, as the twinkly hotel manager. He is in the midst of a career moment, having also just played an ageing dish in the disappointing Book Club.

Best of all, Cher blows in like a tempest as the grandmother Sophie barely knows.

In the annals of great musical numbers, Cher in a Joan Rivers wig belting out a famous Abba song might not be quite up there with Gene Kelly singin’ in the rain, but it’s hard to suppress a cheer when she spots Garcia’s silver fox and cries out his name, which is, of course, Fernando.

As with the first film and the successful stage musical that spawned it, it’s not quite right to say that the songs in Mamma Mia 2 service the flimsiest of narratives.

It’s the other way round: the flimsy narrative is there to service the songs.

But that hasn’t stopped British writer-director Ol Parker from crafting something utterly charming here, a triumph of pure, undemanding escapism.

Perhaps executive producer Richard Curtis also sprinkled some of his own magic fairy dust on the production.

Or maybe Tom Hanks, also an executive producer, wafted his famous bonhomie over it.

Whatever, there is a great deal to enjoy and a burning question: my, my, how can you resist it?

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It is very difficult — and I confess that I failed — to watch this terrific documentary about the iconic World War II fighter aircraft without shedding a tear.

The surviving Spitfire pilots are in their 90s now, The Few are becoming ever fewer and it’s deeply moving to see pictures of them fresh-faced in uniform while listening to their remarkable reminiscences.

Directors David Fairhead and Ant Palmer make only one misjudgment, which is to allow Charles Dance to narrate their film at an almost comic level of sonorous gravity.

Otherwise, it’s utterly marvellous to hear these grand old men — and women, such as Joan Fanshawe, one of the so-called group plotters who pored over huge maps working out where the squadrons needed to be deployed — telling their wartime stories.

Among them is 96-year-old Geoffrey Wellum, whose 2002 memoir First Light made him an unlikely literary sensation.

He describes the importance of never flying level and in a straight line for more than ten seconds, to make yourself harder to hit.

‘Being shot down didn’t appeal to me,’ he says, cheerfully. The film has been made to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the RAF, and its star is the Spitfire itself, which made its inaugural test flight in March 1936.

Just two days later, Hitler’s troops marched into the Rhineland, setting Nazi Germany on a collision course with the rest of Europe.

By the outbreak of war, the Luftwaffe had four times as many aircraft as the RAF.

But the Spitfire was quicker and more versatile than anything the Germans could muster, thanks to its brilliant designer R. J. Mitchell.

He was immortalised by Leslie Howard in the 1942 film The First Of The Few, yet he had died of cancer, aged only 42, by the time his creation helped so spectacularly to win the Battle of Britain.

Stirring archive footage backs up the testimonies of those who were there and there are some fantastic aerial shots of Spitfires now.

Of those that actually took part in the Battle of Britain, only one is still airworthy.

It lives at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, where Squadron Leader Andy Millikin describes it as ‘the most precious flying machine on the planet’, apart from possibly the Apollo 11 command capsule.

That doesn’t seem at all excessive to me, and won’t to anyone who sees this film — as everyone should.

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In case you haven’t seen enough films set in a dystopian Los Angeles a few years in the future, here is Hotel Artemis, unfolding in a riot-wracked LA in 2028. 

There, a little old nurse (Jodie Foster, no less) runs a secret hospital for criminals who, presumably, can’t get health care anywhere else.

The film has plenty of good things, not least Foster, who rarely acts these days, and a charismatic performance by Jeff Goldblum as a local Mr Big.

Sofia Boutella is an arresting French assassin, too, but the film — a debut for British writer-director Drew Pearce — is less than the sum of its parts.

Ultimately, it’s another nightmarish-vision-of-LA movie, over-reliant on gruesome violence for its own sake.

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