Welcome to the second part of my TV movie preview for this Christmas. As before, I’m sticking to films on terrestrial and free digital stations, so none of the pay-to-view channels are included. This time I’m choosing the best of the offerings for Boxing Day and Bank Holiday Tuesday.
The epic theme from the start of the holiday continues, only this time BBC Four and ITV1 have managed to screen two films set in much the same era and featuring similar characters. First comes The Fall Of The Roman Empire, 8.00 pm, BBC4. Not an obvious choice perhaps, but it’s still a classy epic from the 1960s with an all-star cast (Stephen Boyd, Sophia Loren, James Mason and Christopher Plummer). Plummer, who is currently having something of a career renaissance, plays Commodus and, if the name sounds familiar, you’d be right. He crops up again, this time played very creepily by Joaquin Phoenix, in Gladiator, 11.15 pm, ITV1. Ridley Scott briefly revived the epic with this mixture of Ben Hur and Spartacus. It probably wasn’t worth all its Oscars – certainly not the one handed out to Russell Crowe – but it certainly has a sense of scale and spectacle, mainly thanks to CGI (which also came in handy after Oliver Reed’s death during filming) and the story keeps your attention.
The Wizard Of Oz 5.10 pm, Channel 5. Despite being over 70 years old, this Christmas – and cult – classic still looks remarkably fresh. Dorothy (Judy Garland) finds herself transported to an imaginary world, makes some unusual friends and discovers that there’s no place like home. Just click your heels …..
Edward Scissorhands 7.00 pm, Film4. This early collaboration between director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp is a touching, quirky fantasy about outsiders and seeing beyond appearances. Depp stars as a boy built by an inventor and discovered accidentally by the local Avon lady.
The Godfather 1.00 am, Channel 4. Set the recorder for one of the all-time greats, Francis Ford Coppola’s family saga steeped in crime, greed and blood. Superbly acted all round, especially by Brando and Al Pacino, it’s peppered with scenes that are now part of cinema history – the horse’s head, the shooting at the causeway etc. The Godfather Part II, an unusual instance of a sequal being at least as good, if not better, than the original, is on Thursday, 29th, 12.20 am Channel 4. Whether you watch or record the decidedly inferior third part of the saga on Friday, 30th December at 12.15 am on Channel 4, is up to you.
Bank Holiday Tuesday, 27 December
Today’s best films are geared towards a more adult audience but, as they’re all on in the evening, you’ve still more than enough time to shed some pounds beforehand at the sales.
Stand By Me 5.20 pm, 5*. This coming of age drama is one of the most successful of all Stephen King adaptations (The Shawshank Redemption being at the top of the pile). Its young cast includes the then rising star River Phoenix and the film tells the story of a group of teenage friends who go off into the country in search of a body. If you don’t catch it this time round, it’s repeated on the same channel on the following day at 1.30 pm.
In Bruges 9.00 pm, Film4. You might want to make sure Gran’s tucked up in bed for this one – a black, foul-mouthed crime comedy but it’s a great watch. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are contract killers on the run in the picturesque Belgian city and Ralph Fiennes is their particularly nasty boss.
M*A*S*H 12.55 am, Film4. Another one to record, Robert Altman’s original satire set in the Korean war spawned the long-running, much-loved TV series. Anarchic, wickedly funny and sharply acted, especially by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould.
Sarah Palin – You Betcha! 10.00 pm, More4. This hasn’t been listed as a film in the TV guides, but it was recently released in selected cinemas and shown at the London Film Festival in October. It’s a seasonal dose of American politics through the irreverent lens of documentary maker Nick Broomfield. This time his target is the controversial former Vice Presidential candidate and he visits Palin’s home city in Alaska, where people are strangely reluctant to talk to him about her.
So, that’s the main part of the Christmas holiday viewing sorted. But, for those of you lucky enough to be on holiday until after the New Year, part three of this preview will contain my recommendations for those in-between days – plus a few movies that you really should avoid.