Tori Brazier helps you plan your Christmas viewing with Flickering Myth's Top Ten* Terrestrial TV Festive Flicks...
The Christmas period has traditionally always been a time for squeezing an excessive amount of television viewing under one’s already-straining belt, with a plethora of comedy specials, dramas, films and one-off specials from which to choose. This year Channel 5 has chosen to dedicate its entire primetime evening slot on Christmas Day to Eddie Stobart trucker documentaries. With this potentially suggesting a decline in programme quality and choice (much as Stobart’s lorries are a delightful childhood memory), I have turned to the one facet of Crimbo viewing that will never let you down: the festive film. Some choices are inexplicable, and the vast majority are not even remotely related to Christmas (Terminator 2: Judgment Day anyone?), but all of these movies offer an escape from frazzled cooks, awkward relatives (for any of my family reading, I of course do not mean you), yet more eating or the suggestion of having to move even a toe from the post-turkey sofa slump. Here I list, in no particular order, ten films on the five basic UK channels (not all of us are flash enough to have Sky) for which you should avert your attention away from that extra Quality Street...
1) The Muppet Christmas Carol (December 24th, 11am, C4), a twist on a long-established Christmas film tradition. Of the nine adaptations of Dickens’ classic novella aired over the next five days, this is far and away the most original, enjoyable and ‘muppetational’. It features the brightest and best of Jim Henson’s creations, including Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as his wife Emily and The Great Gonzo as Dickens himself, alongside his sidekick Rizzo the Rat. Michael Caine brings thespian gravitas to the whole proceedings as Ebenezer Scrooge. There is also brilliant casting of hecklers Statler and Waldorf as the two Marleys, and perennial favourite Fozzie Bear- simply as ‘Fozziewig’. Musical merriment is to be found in songs such as ‘It Feels Like Christmas’ and the opening number ‘Scrooge’, showcasing inspired rhymes such as “Don’t ask him for a favour ‘cause his nastiness increases/No crust of bread for those in need/No cheeses for us meeces”. There are also singing vegetables: what more could you want?
2) There are some great Hitchcock masterpieces on in December, including Notorious and The 39 Steps, as well as The Girl, a brand-new BBC drama based on the director’s relationship with actress Tippi Hedren, but my pick would have to be his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (December 26th, 10:30pm, BBC2). Both hauntingly atmospheric and romantic, as well as being genuinely creepy whenever the sinister Mrs. Danvers is on screen, this film will have you wrapped-up in the developing relationship between Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) and his unnamed second wife (Joan Fontaine and her fantastically inquisitive eyebrows). A great marriage between a visionary director and engrossing author.
3) Musicals are a customary festive television fixture, and though it might be shown every year, nothing can beat the sheer magic of MGM’s wonderful Singin’ in the Rain (December 25th, 1:35pm, BBC2), routinely voted best movie-musical of all time. Starring the celebrated dancer Gene Kelly, then-ingénue Debbie Reynolds and the extraordinary hoofer Donald O’Connor, and featuring classics from the Arthur Freed songbook such as ‘Good Morning’, ‘You Were Meant For Me’ and of course ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, this film has ‘classic’ written all over it. Add an authentic plot revolving around the difficulties of Hollywood transitioning to sound during the twenties, Cyd Charisse’s legs, and some zingy lines and humour, and it becomes simply exquisite. If you only ever watch one musical, make it this one. If you’re converted however, more Gene Kelly action can be caught directly before in On the Town (December 25th, 12 noon, BBC2) and in Academy Award-winner An American in Paris (December 26th, 2:40pm, BBC2).
4) Sometimes with all of that stuffing and multiple mice pies, it can be difficult to concentrate. In this instance something light, comic and frivolous is just the ticket, and one can be purchased with minimum fuss for Airplane! (December 25th, 1:05am, C4). This is the original spoof movie, slightly baffling audiences when it first appeared in 1980 but consequently gaining huge popularity. Verbal and visual gags and pratfalls are crammed in at break-neck speed and performed by some rather wacky characters: indeed Leslie Nielsen’s role as the pilot proved career-making. Never has taking lines literally been so hilarious.
5) And now for something more serious and thought-provoking- and also with the makings of a modern classic: Joe Wright’s Atonement (December 26th, 11:15pm, ITV1). Another stellar literary adaptation for the list, this time from Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name. A Second World War romantic drama, Atonement examines the affect of one jealous moment’s error in judgment on the lives of its central characters across decades. Keira Knightley acted in this one, and was really quite good. She is ably surrounded by James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave and Benedict Cumberbatch.
6) Tangled (December 25th, 3:10pm, ITV1). Having gone through a bit of a dry-spell creatively in the past twelve years or so, Disney really pulled it out of the bag (without Pixar’s help) for this one in 2010. Returning to their fail-safe formula Disney retells a classic fairytale in their own indomitable style, this time the story of Rapunzel. Despite using CGI for this film, Tangled retains all the charm of hand-drawn animation, harking back to Disney’s most recent renaissance during the nineties. With an adorable heroine, a mischievous and charismatic hero, a gecko sidekick and another in Disney’s long line of wonderful horses (Maximus), the studio throw in their best new score in a while (welcome back Alan Menken) and we all fall hook, line and sinker for its spark.
7) Gone With the Wind / Ben-Hur (December 25th, 9am, C5 / December 25th, 1:15pm, C5) Both considered epics, both broke records at the Academy Awards, but many men are not interested in spoilt Southern Belle Scarlet O’Hara’s tumultuous relationship with the roguish Rhett Butler, even when set against the back drop of the American Civil War, featuring sumptuous production values and starring the equally-gorgeous Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable (shame). For a more ‘manly’ sword-and-sandal blockbuster, look no further than Charlton Heston doing lots of rowing and chariot-racing in Ben-Hur. The crux of the plot is a childhood friendship between a Jewish prince and a Roman tribune betrayed by age, prejudice and ambition. Thus Heston’s Judah Ben-Hur escapes and lives to seek revenge against his old best friend Messala (the tasty Stephen Boyd) for condemning him to a life of slavery in this four-hour marathon.
8) For anyone feeling particularly feminist, in a dark and twisty place, or just in the mood for an excellent thriller, look no further than the original Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December 26th, 10:30pm, C4). Larsson’s Millennium series has been a recent international literary phenomenon, and this movie features the much-lauded performance of Noomi Rapace as fragile-yet-tough computer hacker, and now feminist icon, Lisbeth Salander. Not particularly festive but hey, I did warn you earlier. See the final two installments in the trilogy on the next two nights.
9) The Railway Children (December 26th, 9:25am, ITV1) is a gloriously British film, a film for all ages, and a real nostalgia trip for parents. The Waterbury children and their mother are forced to move from their life of privilege in Edwardian London to a cottage by a railway station in the Yorkshire dales after their father is wrongfully imprisoned. Over time the children bond with locals including the station porter and the Old Gentleman who takes the 9:15 train, and learn to love their new life, all the while longing to be reunited with their father. The scene on the platform at the film's denouement is a prime example of tear-jerking perfection.
10) Time to add some animals to the Christmas mix, and what better than a large orangutan called Clyde? Every Which Way But Loose (December 26th, 2:20am, ITV1) saw über-macho star Clint Eastwood unusually taking a role in a comedy caper after a career made in Spaghetti westerns and the Dirty Harry movies. Clyde is his character’s pet orangutan (obviously) who just comes along for the ride when Philo (Eastwood) decides he’s fallen for a would-be country singer who’s suddenly disappeared when their relationship was going so well… Hilarity and lots of bare-knuckle fighting (a Philo/Eastwood speciality) ensue. This film has not aged brilliantly, with the standard cringing sexism found in the majority of Eastwood’s work, but my mum loves it. It also ranks inside the top 200 highest-grossing movies ever.