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KNOWING AGNETHA ; Reluctant celeb talks about her rise to superstardom with Abba THE BOX Stephen Gordon's four-page telly guide

June 9, 2013



BBC1, Tuesday, 10.35pm

THE first 45 minutes of this documentary about Abba's golden girl Agnetha Faltskog will be a joy for fans of 70s pop.

There's archive Swedish TV footage of the first incarnation of Abba in 1970 as a cheesy cabaret act called Festfolk (party people) - dressed as cowboys and cowgirls and singing show tunes.

"It was a terrible experience," groans songwriter Benny Andersson. His songwriting partner Bjorn Ulvaeus agrees.

"It was dreadful, absolutely dreadful. It was the stupidest idea ever," he says.

They're not wrong. But from such naff beginnings emerged the slick and sexy pop group that went on to have more than 20 hits between 1974 and 1982 and sell 375m albums.

There's also great footage of the pre-Abba career of the gorgeous, mini-skirted young Agnetha (Anna or An-ee-yetta) who combined a full-time office job with singing with the Berndt Enghardt dance band before turning solo and knocking The Beatles off the top of the Swedish charts with a self-penned ballad.

In this film, which is narrated by Kirsty Young and features contributions from Benny, Bjorn and Tim Rice (but not Abba's other singer Anni-Frid), Agnetha, now 63, talks about growing up in the rural village of Jonkoping and being inspired by the American singer Connie Francis.

She and ex-husband Benny talk with such affection about their romance that you might wonder why they ever broke up - but they're as ever guarded about their divorce at the height of their Abba fame except to talk about how it influenced his song The Winner Takes It All.

The film fairly bounces along as it charts the rise of Abba.

In between snatches of the hits Agnetha talks about her stage fright, about becoming a sex symbol and her eventual retreat from the pop world.

The latter stages are largely a plug for her unremarkable sounding new album called A - and it's a bit sad to learn that when nice Gary Barlow twice flew to Sweden to record a duet with her that she wasn't available and so they ended up recording the song apart. Still, they get together to plug it in the film.

VERDICT: Enjoyable film about the life of a reluctant but beautiful star who has one of pop's most distinctive voices.

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