What Mamma Mia 2 got wrong about Oxford graduation

Lily James would not get in with those gold boots

‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again’ is undeniably the best film ever made. I first saw it at the end of second year, and it solidified not only my love for Lily James, but also my decision to run away to Greece after graduating and find some relatively hot skinny boys to shag.

As an Oxford student, MM2 gave me some pretty high expectations about graduation based on the musical scene where Lily James sings “When I Kissed the Teacher” at a mildly distressed Celia Imrie. However, this weekend I had my own graduation, and I must say, I was very disappointed when nobody went up on stage and tore away their gowns to reveal a 1970s-style romper suit.

Shocking though it may seem, MM2 got an awful lot wrong about Oxford graduations. So, in a desperate attempt to stop my student status slipping through my fingers, I will go through every single inaccuracy made by MM2 to make Oxford graduation seem less drab and more ABBA.

Graduation is at the Sheldonian Theatre, not individual colleges

We begin with the camera sweeping over the students, and we are told that this whole shebang is occurring in New College, in the year 1979. This is already super wrong. All Oxford students, regardless of what college they went to, graduate in the Sheldonian Theatre with the rest of their college cohort. It’s some full-circle bullshit, since we all “matriculated” together in the same theatre on some godforsaken hungover Saturday morning the week after Freshers’. I think I still had a club stamp from the night before on my hand in the official photo. Good times.

Nobody graduates at their college, especially not in the dining hall – the effort of moving all those massive long tables that usually fill the hall is far too much. I guess the Mamma Mia production team couldn’t afford to hire the Sheldonian for filming (lol), or Oxford thinks that the Sheldonian is too good for any kind of fun being had within its walls (double lol).

Credit: Simon Q from United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

The year Donna graduated doesn’t add up to when New College admitted women, soz

We also see that Donna’s graduation squad is pretty 50/50 men and women. However, (and I actually did some research here), New College only let women undergraduates begin attending in 1979. So how are Donna and the other women here graduating from the three year degree their gowns suggest they achieved (Oxford BA gowns have that white fur lining) in 1979?! They would have had to have started in 1976, back when women were still deemed too dumb to attend. Judging from the looks of the male proctors on stage during Donna’s performance, they are thoroughly regretting their decision. Lighten up, guys, you only get to see Lily James dancing around with a feather boa once in your life.

Not accurate

The gowns and graduation dress code

Speaking of gowns, everyone in the hall is wearing BA gowns and hoods. In a real Oxford graduation, there are swaths of all kinds of different gowns and hoods, each for all the different qualifications being granted on the day. From my college alone, there were at least 20 students graduating with an MChem/MEng etc., so they got to wear a fetching rose-gold hood with an embroidered gown. My biology degree gave me a BA (Oxford doesn’t do BSc, apparently), so I had to settle for the faux-fur. At least it was cruelty-free.

Fun fact about Oxford: we don’t get to dress up all pretty at graduation like the rest of the universe. We have to wear Oxford academic dress, called ‘sub-fusc’, which is a strictly regulated dress code decided by the university in the year 100,000BC. For blokes, it consists of black trousers, a white shirt, a black suit jacket, a black or white bow tie, or a black tie. Since ladies were only let in a lot more recently, the Head Honchos had a mild panic attack trying to figure out a way to not let women wear suits and look too masculine. So, we have to wear a white blouse with a really stupid black ribbon around our necks, and either a black skirt and black tights, or black trousers, black socks and black shoes. Crucially, as I was informed on my graduation day, there must be NO visible gap between the top of your socks and your trouser hem. Someone might get aroused at the sight of that inch of unshaved shin, I guess?

How did everyone miss these??

Our first shot of Donna is of her graduation shoes of choice. About as far from sub-fusc as you can get, as you can imagine. If I’d worn those, I’m sure I would have been snipered upon entry before I got to my chair.

Unless Lily James speaks in Latin, it’s not right

Lily James isn’t speaking in Latin for two hours

We don’t have valedictorian students, let alone do they give a speech at graduation. This is probably because it’s a very American thing and thus reviled by Oxford. It’s also likely because the entire graduation ceremony is in Latin. That’s right – THE ENTIRE THING. They did start the ceremony with the Pro VC giving a speech in English justifying why the next two hours would be only in Latin. I wasn’t convinced.

We unfortunately didn’t get to wear our hats at any point during the ceremony – we could only put them on outside. Probably against the rules or something.

When Donna sings “all my friends at school” and only two people stood up, I FELT that. Most accurate part of the whole scene (cry).

No hats allowed x

Probably not sub-fusc either. Naughty Donna wouldn’t actually be allowed to enter the hall to graduate unless she had the correct dress code on, because this university is insane. They genuinely have a box of spare socks in case someone decided to choose their Garfield Christmas socks that day. No wonder she ran off to Greece afterwards; at least you can show your ankles and shoulders there.

Wow she must really be a BNOC to be getting this kind of treatment

We don’t only graduate with our college year; there are three or four other colleges graduating with you at the same time. The fact that everyone in there gave enough of a shit to carry Donna and her mates is truly a miracle. In real life, half her college might be vibing with her if she was a BNOC, but the rest would be looking on in second-hand-embarrassed disdain, and Donna would fall to the floor with a thud.

Stunning x

The bike ride scene is technically 27 minutes long

This shot is so aesthetic and I love it, but let’s face it, all these bikes would be locked since people nick bikes all the time. Slow it down by 30 times and it’ll be more like reality.

So Donna and the happy graduands cycle out of New College, and immediately end up cycling through the small village of Wytham, on the outskirts of Oxford. The power of Mamma Mia does not end at teleportation it seems. Just say ABBA-cadabra (ugh).

They then cycle over Godstow Road Bridge (according to Find That Location), then apparently double-back on themselves to get to Godstow Abbey, the ruined river-side church where they find a longboat named Chiquitita to dance on top of. In total, according to Google maps, the whole cycle would have taken 27 minutes. Even I couldn’t listen to ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’ nine times on repeat (they definitely sing it the whole way there).

Feels excessive

The only inaccuracy with this final bit is the fact that the three Dynamos leap into the river Thames with little-to-no hesitation. Here’s the tea – it’s fucking freezing.


Bonus round: Donna’s room

We briefly get to see Donna’s room at New College, where she sings her goodbyes to the squad on her balcony (!) overlooking the whole city (!!) in a deleted scene. This is the most ridiculous part of the entire movie, including the bit where Cher turns out to be Meryl Streep’s mum.

I genuinely screamed when I saw this. Most rooms in Oxford look like most rooms in every student halls in the country: minuscule, a desk, and single bed to encourage celibacy in favour of writing essays. The organs that I would sell to live in this room aren’t even limited to the ones I have two of. Donna must have some serious money (money, money?) to live in literally the best room in the entire city, which I guess I now have to add to the list of reasons I’m jealous of her. Sigh.

So don’t worry. If you were sat there marvelling at the fairy tale that is Donna’s Oxford, it’s okay, because I was too. It’s a very embellished version of a very mystified university, but then again, the Mamma Mia films are literally about running a hotel in Greece and three men falling in love with you, so how realistic did we really expect it to be.