Can Lily James Live Up to Meryl Streep’s Legacy in the New ‘Mamma Mia!’ Sequel?

Matthew Loffhagen
Disney/Universal
(Photo: Disney/Universal)

Lily James has been doing pretty well for herself lately.

Following the wondrous success of Downton Abbey, it was no surprise that many of the show’s cast members would go on to bigger and brighter things. James has managed more than most, playing one of Disney’s most enduring princesses in the live-action remake of Cinderella, as well as taking on a recent role as the love interest, Debora, in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.

It’s clear that Lily James is on the way up in Hollywood, and it’s clear that she’s up to the challenge of playing iconic roles in eagerly anticipated movies. That said, the actor now faces the daunting task of doing what so few actors have managed successfully: living up to the legacy of the mighty Meryl Streep.

The original Mamma Mia is one film that manages to define the latter half of last decade for a lot of moviegoers. Coming in 2008, at a time when feelgood movies were very much in demand, the film (itself based on a hit Broadway musical) brought together a pretty incredible cast including a former James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), the perennial Mr Darcy (Colin Firth), and a post-Mean Girls, pre-Les Mis Amanda Seyfried.

Rounding out the cast of the original movie is none other than Meryl Streep herself, one of the brightest stars of Hollywood, who provides one of the movie’s more impressive musical voices – after all, if you’re going to base an entire film on the songs of ABBA, you need at least a few good singers among your cast (if only to make up for poor old Pierce).

The chances are that even if musicals aren’t your normal thing, you’ve seen Mamma Mia. It’s one of those movies that stretched far further than anyone expected, and (in case you need any hints) is a great date movie. Besides, it’s ABBA! What’s not to love!

In the newly announced follow-up movie, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, is ostensibly a sequel, with Streep among the many actors that’ll return for this follow-up tale.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lily James will play the younger version of Streep’s character, Donna, and will provide a pivotal role – so it sounds like a large chunk of this movie will feature flashbacks to Donna’s (relative) youth.

The question, then, is whether James can handle the role as baby Meryl Streep. Casting a younger actor to take on the role created by a more established, experienced professional is always tricky, and thus far, James has primarily played fairly passive characters within her movie roles – her version of Cinderella is mostly defined by uncontained glee at simply being allowed to attend a grown-up party at the castle, while Debora in Baby Driver just kind of goes with the flow of events, even when her new boyfriend turns out to be a dangerous criminal.

Arguably, James’ most active role in any movie’s plot appears in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a movie which didn’t exactly take the world by storm upon debut.

This isn’t James’ fault – she can only do what a movie’s script requires her to do. It’ll be interesting to see her in a more active role, especially when her version of Donna will go head-to-head with Streep’s older incarnation in the same movie.

That said, Lily James is winning so many big Hollywood roles for a reason. The actor has the chops to pull off complex roles – as proven by Downton Abbey, and with any luck, she’ll be given enough to work with in Here We Go Again! To allow her to shine.

Either way, it’s worth keeping an eye on this actor. With several hits under her belt already, her star is definitely on the rise in Hollywood.

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