According to its front cover, this year’s Christmas Radio Times boasts “280 pages of the best festive films, TV and radio.” That’s an awful lot of pages to slog through if you’re looking for a good film to watch. But you don’t have to. Last year’s Coops Christmas Preview proved so popular that it’s back again.
Over the next week, I’ll be selecting the best movies on TV over the holiday – and possibly steering you away from a turkey or two! All the films will be on terrestrial or free-to-air digital channels, so everybody should be able to watch them without forking out an extra penny. I’ll concentrate on the main days of the holiday, starting with Christmas Eve and finishing on New Year’s Day, as well as picking a few goodies from the days in between. And, in case absolutely nothing takes your fancy, there’ll be some DVD recommendations as well.
This year’s line-up contains plenty of familiar faces, with some more recent offerings to refresh the palate. Animation makes a stronger-than-usual showing, with some top-notch offerings including Up and Lady And The Tramp and, with several versions of Scrooge (of varying standards) on offer and classics like The Wizard of Oz, there’s more than enough to keep the whole family entertained. Moody Scandinavian drama finds its way onto the schedule courtesy of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy on Four, with the same channel running the Lord Of The Rings series as well.
Tim Burton’s distinctive films pepper the fortnight, including Edward Scissorhands and the more recent Alice In Wonderland, while BBC2 offers classics from Alfred Hitchcock to complement its own drama about the director. And self-confessed western lovers like myself are catered for as well, with the likes of Dances With Wolves and Shane.
And here’s my first turkey alert. On no account allow yourself to fall prey to the afternoon films on Five USA. They are universally terrible schmaltzy, sickly rubbish. Goodness knows where they get them – and I wish they wouldn’t.
So, having got that off my chest, just grab the nearest mince pie and let’s get started ……………
BBC2 gets the day off to a cracking, if slightly unconventional, start with Tim Burton’s dark vision of the holiday season in The Nightmare Before Christmas (9.10 am). This is a wonderfully weird fable, packed with spooks, gags and more songs than you would expect. Some scenes might be a touch scary for younger viewers, so you could be on hand-holding duty.
Straight afterwards we’re plunged into the whacky animation of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (10.20 am), with private eye Bob Hoskins venturing into Toontown. Watch out for guest appearances from Daffy Duck, Micky Mouse and Betty Boop in an action-packed tale.
There’s four versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to choose from today, although I’d avoid the one on Channel Four at 8.30 am if I were you: Nic Cage and Kate Winslet should be ashamed of themselves. But the same channel redeems itself with The Muppet Christmas Carol at 11 am, complete with a Cockney Scrooge Michael Caine (his scenes with Statler and Waldorf as the Marley brothers are just glorious). And Channel 5 gives us the ultimate version at 4.10 pm: Scrooge was the part Alistair Sim was born to play and even this colourised version can’t diminish just how perfect he is in the role. And, if you like Jim Carrey, you’ll love the motion-capture version of A Christmas Carol on BBC1 at 6.45 pm. If you don’t, you won’t.
The evening’s movie fare is considerably thinner, with the pick of the bunch being for sci-fi fans. A low-budget British film that was a surprise hit in 2010, Attack The Block (Film4, 9pm) sees a group of teenagers protecting their South London estate from aliens. It sounds unlikely, but it’s energetic, slightly scary and very funny.
If you’re planning to be so relaxed that you only press one button on the remote all day, then make sure it’s number five. Channel Five has the day sewn up with the epic Gone With The Wind starting at 9 am, which sweeps across your screen in lavish style until lunchtime. It’s followed immediately by another epic, this time of a more biblical nature, the multi-Oscar winning Ben Hur at 1.15 pm, featuring the most famous chariot race in cinematic history.
Casablanca makes its welcome seasonal appearance on More4 at 5.55pm – a romantic drama that stands repeated viewings – while Channel Four gets started on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy at 5.40 pm with the first episode, The Fellowship Of The Ring. Parts two and three are on Boxing Day and Saturday, 29th respectively, and all of them are musts for the legions of Tolkein fans.
Elsewhere, ITV’s Carry On season gives us the glorious Carry On Cleo (ITV3, 7.05 pm) featuring the most camp Julius Caesar in history (Kenneth Williams) and the best line ever – “Infamy! Infamy!” You know the rest. For something of a more serious nature, you’ll need to stay up to 12.30 am for Cold Mountain on BBC1, Antony Minghella’s Civil War drama with Jude Law and Nicole Kidman as sweethearts separated when he goes off to fight for the Confederacy. Despite the leads not being quite as engaging as you’d expect, this is a visual feast and worth setting the recorder for, if staying up late isn’t an option.
So, that’s your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day movies sorted. The next edition of this Christmas preview will concentrate on Boxing Day, so join me then for what could be described as a traditional selection box ………