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Our festive guide to the best films on TV this Christmas

PUBLISHED: 16:07 22 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:07 22 December 2018

Hugh Jackman is PT Barnum in the contemporary movie musical The Greatest Showman Photo: 20th Century Fox

Hugh Jackman is PT Barnum in the contemporary movie musical The Greatest Showman Photo: 20th Century Fox

Archant

Christmas is the time of year when the TV companies supplement their home-grown Christmas specials with a welcome opportunity to catch some great movies. Arts editor Andrew Clarke compiles his recommended viewing list

Jason Segel and Amy Adams organise a telethon to save The Muppet Theatre in the movie The Muppets Photo: DisneyJason Segel and Amy Adams organise a telethon to save The Muppet Theatre in the movie The Muppets Photo: Disney

Saturday December 22

The Muppets (2011) BBC2, 10am

OK, you are likely to be too busy to watch this live but as with all Muppet movies these are wasted on kids. This is a movie for everyone who remembers the iconic TV series from the 1970s & 80s. The old Muppet Theatre is in danger of being torn down as businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) wants to drill for oil. Muppet superfans Gary and Mary (Jason Segel and Amy Adams) set out to get the Muppets back together again to perform in a telethon to raise enough money to buy back their former home.

Robert Downey Jnr is Tony Stark, who is Iron Man, in the film which launched the Marvel universe Photo: DisneyRobert Downey Jnr is Tony Stark, who is Iron Man, in the film which launched the Marvel universe Photo: Disney

Finding Neverland (2004) BBC2, 4.25pm

Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman and Freddie Highmore join forces to tell the story of JM Barrie and the creation of his festive family favourite Peter Pan. Director Marc Forster adapts Allan Knee’s play with great imagination. It shows how Barrie, suffering from writer’s block, was reinvigorated by his befriending of widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her family. The film has sentiment but is never sentimental.

Return of the Jedi, the third original Star Wars film gets an outing this Christmas a week before the network premiere of The Force Awakens sequel Photo: 20th Century FoxReturn of the Jedi, the third original Star Wars film gets an outing this Christmas a week before the network premiere of The Force Awakens sequel Photo: 20th Century Fox

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) ITV, 6.30pm

Prepare yourselves for next week’s network premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by revisiting the forest moon of Endor, witnessing Jabba the Hut in all his slimy glory and Luke Skywalker’s spectacular duel with the Emperor. The easy banter and fast action is what makes this movie work. It’s not the greatest of the original films but its still streets ahead of any of the prequels and serves as a wonderful primer for next week’s sequel.

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave in the Grand Budapest Hotel Photo: 20th Century FoxRalph Fiennes as Gustave in the Grand Budapest Hotel Photo: 20th Century Fox

Iron Man (2008) ITV2, 9pm

The film which spawned an entire universe and changed Hollywood forever. It sounds a bold statement for a comic book movie but Robert Downey Jnr, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow came together to create what was assumed to be just another routine superhero movie following on from Spiderman and X-Men franchises but the tale of billionaire businessman Tony Stark, who used his fortune and research abilities to protect society from crime and terrorists, proved such a hit that it triggered a wave of other inter-linked movies based on Marvel comic books including Captain America, The Hulk, The Avengers, Thor and The Black Panther.

Carey Mulligan is Bathsheba Everdene and Michael Sheen as William in the remake of Far From The Madding Crowd Photo: Alex Bailey/20th Century FoxCarey Mulligan is Bathsheba Everdene and Michael Sheen as William in the remake of Far From The Madding Crowd Photo: Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox

The Sapphires (2012) BBC2, 11.40pm

If you are looking for something different and heartwarming then you couldn’t do better than tuning into this beautiful period movie about Australia’s involvement in The Vietnam War. Billed as Australia’s answer to ‘The Supremes’, sisters, Cynthia, Gail, Julie and Kay are discovered by a talent scout who flies them to Vietnam to sing for the American troops. Based on a true story, The Sapphires is a celebration of family, music and the decade where race-relations were finally taken seriously.

Michelle Williams stars as Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark visit Eton College in My Week With Marilyn Photo: BBC FilmsMichelle Williams stars as Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark visit Eton College in My Week With Marilyn Photo: BBC Films

Sunday December 23

Up (2009) BBC1, 3.25pm

Pixar, the animation giants, returned to form after The Cars misfire with this beautifully written, heartwarming tale of loss and friendship, designed to appeal to young and old alike. Veteran actor Ed Asner voices Carl Fredericksen, the ultimate grumpy old man, who decides to fulfil a life-long ambition to fly away to a great, unknown adventure by tying thousands of helium balloons to his house. Unbeknown to him he has a stow-away, boy scout Russell. Together the pair form a bond while trying to save a rare bird from the clutches of an explorer (voiced by Christopher Plummer). The perfect example of how animation can appeal to adults and children on different levels.

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015) BBC2, 10pm

Carey Mulligan steps into Julie Christie’s shoes in this masterful re-make of the Thomas Hardy classic. This version makes you very aware (without bowdlerising Hardy’s story) how progressive the character of Bathsheba Everdene is. Although, the 1960s movie is still great, this version co-starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen makes the story feel very modern and up-to-date. This is a film about an intelligent, resourceful young woman wanting to live life on her own terms and to make her own mistakes.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Film4, 11.20pm

There was a time after watching The Avengers and Maid in Manhattan when you could be forgiven for thinking that Ralph Fiennes couldn’t do comedy – how wrong we were. Wes Anderson constructs a perfect black comedy about the unlikely adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the First and Second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The film has the feel of The Lady Vanishes crossed with a contemporary Brothers Grimm fairytale, played out on an exquisitely designed set. Brilliant.

Christmas Eve

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) ITV, 12.55pm

Forget the current animated film, this life action version with Jim Carrey as the green-faced misery-guts will go down as the all-time classic. Brilliantly brought to life by top director Ron Howard, he creates a wonderful alternate universe in Whoville and makes us believe. A perfect slice of festive warmth.

Scrooge (1951) Channel 5, 4.20pm

There are plenty of versions of Dickens’ tale on screen this Christmas but this British version starring Alastair Sim is by the far the best. The British comic actor, who was previously most famous for cross-dressing and playing dual roles in the St Trinians’ movies, is perfectly cast against type in this seasonally atmospheric masterpiece. No matter how many times you see it, it never fails to move you.

Gremlins (1984) ITV, 9.20pm

A blacker than black, black comedy about cute, furry little creatures who are transformed into killer demons during the Christmas period. It sends up the sickly cuteness, and the picture perfect nature of small town America as depicted in endless Hollywood Christmas films. It’s a hugely entertaining adventure-comedy, stylishly told and full of magic moments. Look out for the cameo by Steven Spielberg.

The Lady In The Van (2015), BBC2, 10pm

Alan Bennett’s touching real-life tale of a bag lady who pitches up on his drive told by Bennett’s on-screen doppelgänger Alex Jennings and the brilliant Maggie Smith. Brilliantly brought to life by theatre director Nicholas Hytner, who directed the play at the National Theatre, the film explores the touching friendship that developed between the pair over many years. Maggie Smith is brittle, bitter, funny and vulnerable in a powerhouse performance.

Christmas Day

Arthur Christmas (2011) Channel 4, 1.45pm

Aardman Animation, the people who gave us Wallace and Gromit, have come up with a Christmas classic in this beautifully far-fetched adventure about Santa and his family who bumble their way through the festive season each year. Jim Broadbent voices the perpetually confused Santa while Hugh Laurie is the technology obsessed heir apparent. Bill Nighy steals the show as the cranky Grandpa Claus and James McAvoy is the naive hero Arthur who doesn’t want one child to be missed.

The Greatest Showman (2017) Sky 1, 6.45pm

The big film for Christmas Day without any doubt. Hugh Jackman goes back to his roots as a theatrical song and dance man for this colourful tale of American circus impresario PT Barnum. The film, like Moulin Rouge before it, reinvents the movie musical for the modern age, mixing visuals and musical dance sequences with dramatic scenes from different era, in order to create something that is both atmospheric, dramatic and very contemporary. The song-writing team behind La La Land do the honours when it comes to the up-lifting songs.

The Duchess (2008) BBC 2, 10.15pm

Ralph Fiennes, Keira Knightley and Haley Atwell form an eyebrow raising menage-a-trois in this true story of Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana becomes a powerful behind-the-scenes political reformer while her philandering husband, the Duke, is only interested in getting an heir. Knightley plays Georgiana with intelligence and great dignity while Fiennes is suitably cold and remote. Georgiana cleverly forms a bond with her rival Bess Foster as the trio live an extraordinary life together.

My Week with Marilyn (2011) BBC1, 12.35am

Another extraordinary true story as Michelle Williams becomes the latest actress to fill the shoes of Marilyn Monroe. Kenneth Branagh directs and plays Laurence Olivier in this absorbing tale of life on set of The Prince and The Showgirl which Monroe shot in London with Olivier in 1957. The film captures the period perfectly having been adapted from the memoirs of Colin Clark who was working as a production assistant on set at the time and befriended Marilyn as tensions arose with Olivier.

Boxing Day

Saving Mr Banks (2013) BBC2, 2.30pm

The true story behind Walt Disney’s creation of the film version of Mary Poppins with Emma Thompson providing a stand-out performance as prickly author PL Travers and Tom Hanks has the patience of a saint as the wily, but put-upon Walt Disney. Travers hated cartoons, musicals and Hollywood and wanted to protect the integrity of her creation but as this film entertainingly reveals Hollywood always gets its way.

The BFG (2016) BBC1 5.40pm

Roald Dahl’s larger than life creation is brought vividly to life by Mark Rylance and Steven Spielberg with a superb script from ET writer Melissa Mathison. The transfer from page to screen is inspired and proves that Spielberg, after years of working on grown-up material, has not lost his ability to communicate with child-like wonder when the situation demands. Told with affection and imagination this is a glorious confection of a film and will add a wonderful Christmas glow to early evening on Boxing Day. Mark Rylance is brilliant as the title character.

Bridesmaids (2011) ITV2, 9pm

One of the funniest, rudest, most inventive comedies to come out of Hollywood for a very long time and one of the most successful – proving that a comedy by women for women can be as clever and entertaining as any movie that has gone before. Annie (Kristen Wiig), is a maid of honour whose life unravels as she leads her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and a group of colourful bridesmaids (Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper) on a wild ride down the road to matrimony.

Love Actually (2003) ITV, 10.20pm

Love Actually has quickly become a Christmas staple with its collection of inter-linked stories taking a large star-filled cast across an emotionally entangled Christmas season. Bill Nighy steals the show as washed up rocker Billy Mack looking for success at any price while it is Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson who provide the emotional heart of the piece as a married couple who are having cope with the strains of a long-term relationship. Colin Firth has a touching tale which proves love is all around while Rowan Atkinson delivers a short but sweet cameo.

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