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The ‘Mamma Mia!’ plot turn that saddens audiences but thrills Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep plays Donna, who was the focus of 2008's "Mamma Mia!" but hardly appears in the sequel.

Meryl Streep plays Donna, who was the focus of 2008's "Mamma Mia!" but hardly appears in the sequel. | UNIVERSAL PICTURES

The second chapter of “Mamma Mia!” adds some serious poignancy to Meryl Streep’s beloved Donna.

Speculation about the character’s fate has boiled ever since the first trailer arrived last December for the sequel to 2008’s “Mamma Mia!” There were strong hints of pathos.

The entire cast was present— Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Co. — along with a new lineup of young stars, led by Lily James as young Donna, playing the early generation of the beloved characters. But there were only brief glimpses of Donna from the original film.

Now that the mystery has been revealed for filmgoers, we can discuss.

Warning: Spoilers below!

“Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” wastes little time getting right to the point: Donna has died, the cause unclear but the pain still present. She is everywhere in pictures on walls. Rosie (Julie Walters) cannot even mention her name without bursting into tears.

Brosnan’s Sam mourns his beloved with the song the two sang in the first film’s spirited duet, “SOS.” But this time,  he sings it alone and poignantly.

In reality, producer Judy Craymer explains that Streep, who never does sequels, was thrilled with the idea of passing on the movie’s focus to James’ Donna and the younger cast.

“And Meryl quite liked the drastic-ness of the turn,” Craymer says.

For “Mamma Mia!” in 2008, Streep loved the challenge of singing and dancing in nine songs and the results. But she climbed that mountain.

“She said she would never take on all that again,” Craymer says. “She said: ‘If there’s a way I can be involved, I would love that. But I’m never going to be singing nine songs, running on the clifftops again.’ Which you could understand. She had given 100 percent of her energy to the first. And she had done it, really.”

What Streep lacks in screen time she makes up for in impact. Donna’s spirit appears in the chapel where daughter Sophie (Seyfried) baptizes her baby. Donna is visible only to Sophie as the two sing the duet “My Love, My Life” while the scene flashes back to Sophie’s baptism in the same church.

Donna (Meryl Streep, right) manages to sing a duet with daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) in "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again."

Donna (Meryl Streep, right) manages to sing a duet with daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” | UNIVERSAL PICTURES

It’s weepy stuff. Even James admitted to tears watching the song rehearsal before meeting Streep for the first time.

“I was so moved and crying,” James says. “I had to sort of just pull myself together. It was very overwhelming.”

Screenwriter-director Ol Parker knows killing off Donna was radical stuff, with the audience deciding ultimately “whether it’s radical good or radical bad.”

“We all felt this was the best story to tell and the best way to tell it,” says Parker. “Meryl’s Donna embodied the spirit of ABBA and ‘Mamma Mia!’ in the first film. You hope people realize that it wasn’t just about her. And when Donna arrives, it’s this amazing bonus.”

But no ABBA musical would end on teary note. In no time, the story bounces to an upbeat ending as Cher (Donna’s mother) spots the passionate and mysterious hotel manager, known only as Senor Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia).

Turns out he’s an old flame, who reveals that his first name is Fernando, which allows Cher to sing ABBA’s classic “Fernando” as the two rekindle their passion.

“Andy Garcia’s character was invented so that Cher could sing ‘Fernando.’ That was a classic piece of reverse engineering,” says Parker. “I started from the Fernando joke and worked backward trying to figure out what Andy was doing there.”