I’ll stick to the main holiday period, ie Christmas Eve to Bank Holiday Tuesday, and select a few goodies from the days between Christmas and New Year, as well as slapping health warnings on ones to avoid throughout the break. All the films mentioned will either be available on terrestrial or free digital TV, so I’m not including anything on paid-for movie channels. After all, few things are more frustrating than being interested in a film and then finding that you can’t watch it!
To be honest, there’s nothing particularly new or devastatingly exciting about the line-up of films this Christmas, but it is an opportunity to see some classics that you’ve just never got round to watching, or refreshing your memory of movies that you’ve enjoyed in the past. And, before you ask, neither The Great Escape, Casablanca nor The African Queen are on this year!
BBC Four makes great play of showing a series of epics, but ITV and Five have got in on the act as well, so there’s plenty of choice if you like a combination of spectacle and history. ITV3, in the meantime, devotes most of Christmas Day to Carry On films, including the epic (of sorts) Carry On Cleo, complete with Kenneth William’s legendary “Infamy!” gag. The mandatory Snowman puts in his usual Christmas Day appearance on Channel Four, while my personal favourites, Wallace and Gromit, are rather scattered around the BBC schedule, starting with the glorious Wrong Trousers on Saturday, 17 December.
So, here we go …..
ET, The Extra Terrestrial 3.35 pm, ITV1. We’ve all seen it (haven’t we?) but it doesn’t really matter. Spielberg tugs at our heartstrings yet again in this classic tale of the outsider (both the child and the alien) as hero – and reminds us all to phone home.
Scrooge 5.05 pm, Channel 5. The original black and white version is more atmospheric than this colourised version, but Alistair Sim has never been bettered in the title role, despite many re-makes. For an ever-so-slightly different take on the same story, check out The Muppet Christmas Carol beforehand at 12 noon on Channel 4. Michael Caine as Scrooge? Oh, yes! And he really enjoys himself!
Spartacus 2.10 am, ITV1. Forget the tawdry series on Sky – this is the real thing! Yes, I know it contains the much parodied “I’m Spartacus” scene, plus a glorious moment when Tony Curtis explains in broadest Brooklyn how he tought “da classics” to his master’s children. But it’s got the lot – spectacle, romance, triumph and tragedy – plus Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov stealing every scene they’re in! It’s on at a terrible time in the morning, but you can either record it or watch it again on ITV4 on Christmas Day at 4.15 pm or yet again on Bank Holiday Tuesday, same time, same channel.
Borat 11.05 pm, E4. You may want to make sure that the smaller members of the family are genuinely asleep and not watching out for Santa, as you won’t want them imitating or quoting from this one. Sacha Baron Cohen’s mockumentary following Borat’s travels round America is outrageous, horribly un-pc, tasteless – and extremely funny! You’ll laugh even though you know you shouldn’t. But not too loudly, otherwise you’ll wake up the kids!
March of the Penguins 9.25 am, ITV1. A surprise hit of 2005, this French documentary on the life of Emperor penguins suddenly made the birds fashionable. Morgan Freeman’s narration can be a touch dry, and the film does have a tendency to humanise the penguins, but it’s highly watchable, nonetheless, and the photography is breathtaking. For penguins of the cartoon variety, sit the youngsters – and yourself – in front of Happy Feet on ITV1 at 3.10 pm. It’s good post-lunch entertainment for all the family, as well as having some cool music. Those of you with kiddies under five might want to know that there are a couple of scenes they could find scary.
El Cid 7.00 pm, BBC4. And another epic, this time Charlton Heston as the legendary Spanish hero ridding his country of the Moors. Admittedly, it looks a bit dated now, but it’s still lush, romantic and spectacular, so it won’t disappoint.
Singin’ In The Rain 3.05pm, More4. Yes, it’s time for an obligatory Christmas musical, but this is also a highly entertaining send-up of the arrival of the talkies in Hollywood. Of course it has Gene Kelly, literally singing in the rain – but it also has Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” …..!!
The Ladykillers 7.15 pm, Film4. The classic Ealing black comedy, not the dodgy re-make by the otherwise usually superb Coen brothers. Alec Guinness (complete with shocking false teeth) leads a gang of bank robbers being unwittingly sheltered by the eccentric but rather sweet Mrs Wilberforce (an immaculate Katie Johnson) while they pose as amateur musicians. Watch out for a cameo by a certain Frankie Howerd as a barrowboy foolish enough to tangle with Mrs W (or “Mrs Lopsided”, as one of the gang calls her)! A new stage version opened at London’s Gielgud theatre a few days ago and, as the script is by Father Ted’s Graham Linehan, I have high hopes. I’ll be seeing it, and posting a review, next month.
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid 1.10 pm, Film4. Western lovers (me included – and I know it’s not cool) will feel a bit hard done-by this Christmas, as there’s little for them. But they can comfort themselves with two of the most amiable outlaws ever to make it onto the screen in this light-hearted, highly successful comedy western. Newman and Redford were inspired pairing, bringing style and humour in equal measure to the proceedings.
So that’s your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day movies sorted! My next post will take a look at films on TV during the second half of the holiday, Boxing Day and Bank Holiday Tuesday.