Well, you asked for it, so here it is. The Coops Review Christmas TV Preview for 2015. Except that I’m doing it a little differently this year.
The rise of on-demand over the past year or so means that the holiday movies on terrestrial and free digital channels aren’t the big deal they once were. Even if it’s the first time a movie’s been shown on terrestrial TV, the biggest greeting it will get is a shrug of the shoulders. A bit grim for those without satellite, but a fact of TV life nowadays and what that means is that a lot of this year’s Christmas movies are just fillers.
So it’s no great surprise that the line-up has plenty of familiar titles in it, some of which the various operators have been flogging to death in the run up to the holiday season. Like the Toy Story trilogy. We all love it but it’s been on several times already over the past month or so. Yet, in its infinite wisdom, the Beeb reckons we need to see it all over again – again. I beg to differ.
Perennials like Gone With The Wind (Christmas Eve, Channel 5, 10.30 am), just about every Carry On film under the sun (ITV3, Christmas Day), Bond, Indiana Jones and The African Queen (New Year’s Eve, More 4, 10.15 am) are givens this year, along with many others. What I’m going to do here is be very selective and pick out the real gems tucked away in your listings magazine. They may be comparatively recent, or they may just stand repeated viewings. But one thing they are is good.
Tuesday, 22 December
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. BBC2, 10.30 pm. He’s not to everybody’s taste, I know, but the first outing of Norwich’s finest on the big screen is seriously funny, with Coogan’s comic creation at his grotesque best in what essentially is a gag-fest. For more – although, if you’re a fan, you probably won’t need it! – check out my original review.
Finding Nemo. BBC1, 3.50 pm. Disney Pixar’s story of a little clown fish who ends up in a fish tank and his dad’s quest to bring him home is a must-see. Populated by some great aquatic characters (including the hippy turtle, Crush, voiced by the film’s director, Andrew Stanton), it’s full of all the Disney values and emotions that you expect, coupled with some great gags – watch out for the seagulls! – and wonderful animation. The long-overdue sequel, Finding Dory, arrives in the UK next year. Bring it on!
Here’s a classic example of what I mean about this year’s movies. I struggled to find something that I know I would both watch and recommend. Wall-to-wall Carry On? Well, I may dip into Screaming, which is the best of the bunch. I’ve seen Happy Feet (ITV, 11.30 am) and it doesn’t really stand a second viewing. What about Russell Crowe as Robin Hood? Nah!
The Big Lebowski. ITV4, 12.05 am. Technically, the best film on Christmas Day starts on Boxing Day, an irony that would probably have been appreciated by both the Coen Brothers and The Dude (Jeff Bridges). This comedy/film noir pastiche is regarded by many as Joel and Ethan’s best work ever and improves with age and repeated viewings.
Oliver Twist. More 4, 9.50 am. Nobody has ever bettered David Lean’s 1948 version of the Dickens classic. Filmed in grimy black and white with Alec Guinness in his first leading role underneath all those prosthetics, its portrayal of the underbelly of Victorian society is tangibly grubby. And watch how Sykes’ dog reacts to the killing of Nancy …..
Those In Between Days
A Man For All Seasons. Sunday, 27 December, BBC2, 8.15 am. Paul Schofield’s Oscar winning performance as Sir Thomas More is more than worth getting up for. Fred Zinneman’s adaptation of Robert Bolt’s stage play has a great British cast and there’s a supporting role for the real Hampton Court Palace. With TV’s Wolf Hall still fresh in our memories, it’s also an interesting contrast to the portraits we saw there of More and Thomas Cromwell.
Spartacus. Monday, 28 December, ITV4, 4.10 pm. Yes, it’s on every year, but this classic epic has the lot and watching it is no hardship. Whether you relish Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton shamelessly stealing scenes from Laurence Olivier, laugh out loud at the thought of the Brooklyn accented Tony Curtis teaching “da classics” or just want to wallow in the spectacle of it all, you won’t be disappointed. And Kirk Douglas’ son, Michael, crops up later in the day as Liberace in Behind The Candelabra (BBC2, 9 pm).
New Year’s Eve
The New Year offerings are often more plentiful and simply better than the ones at Christmas, but not so this year.
Up. BBC1, 2.50pm. Disney Pixar again, this time with a 78 year old as the protagonist, flying away in a house powered by balloons and finding he has a young stowaway. Directed by Pete Docter, who was behind the studio’s wonderful Inside Out this year, this is something of an emotional rollercoaster, as well as an adventure. And, whatever you do, don’t miss the opening minutes.
New Year’s Day
Howards End. More 4, 9.35 am. Merchant Ivory were at their absolute best with this adaptation of E M Forster’s story of class and snobbery. Anthony Hopkins is perfectly cast as the family patriarch, but it’s Emma Thompson’s performance as the woman who becomes his second wife that takes your breath away. The way her character evolves, develops and changes before your very eyes is flawless and deservedly won her an Oscar.
That’s a pretty good bunch of films and, of course, there are plenty more movies on TV over the holiday. But this year’s schedule seems to be all about quantity, not quality. It’s the wrong way round but hopefully there’s at least something among my selection that will whet your appetite.