Recommended films to catch on the UK Freeview channels over Christmas

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*one for the kids

The Young Victoria
Saturday 21st Dec – 5.25pm BBC2

I am a sucker for a good historical drama. This one tells the story of Queen Victoria at the start of her reign which hasn’t had as much coverage as other parts of her life. We see her developing romance with Prince Albert and the political machinations of those trying to benefit from her coronation. Emily Blunt takes the title role and she is always watchable. Think of it as a prequel to Mrs Brown.

*Harvey
Monday 23rd Dec – 1pm C5

If you were to ask me what my favourite film is, sometimes I will say ‘Harvey’. James Stewart is at his absolute best and there are just no two ways about it, watching this will make you a better person. Catch this one if you like good manners and seven foot tall invisible rabbits.

Jane Eyre
Monday 23rd Dec – 8.30pm BBC2

When this came out I wasn’t sure we needed another version of Jane Eyre but Mia Wasikowska brings something new to the party. It is an earthy film and just feels like a more realistic version of the story. If you love the book then I suggest you give this a go and if you don’t love the book you really ought to read it.

It’s a Wonderful Life
Tuesday 24th Dec – 1.10pm C4

James Stewart at his absolute second best. It’s a Wonderful Life is a slightly darker film than its reputation suggests but it is an absolute treat from its beginning to its beautifully Christmassy end. If you’ve not seen it then now is your chance to rectify that terrible mistake.

*The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Tuesday 24th Dec – 1.30pm BBC1

This should have been a dead cert for an ongoing franchise but it has been passed round the studios like a white elephant. The chronicles initially faltered after part two, a different film company picked it up for part three then dropped it again and now someone else is doing part four. This first one though is a beautiful interpretation of a wonderful book. It suffered Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings comparisons on release but can now be judged on its own significant merits. It is certainly a massive improvement on that terrible BBC version that we all loved as kids because we didn’t know any better.

*Raiders of the Lost Ark
Tuesday 24th Dec – 8pm BBC3

A perfect opportunity to:
A: watch this again
B: show it to any children aged ten or above that you may have living in your home
C: remind yourself of how great George Lucas used to be.

*Singin’ in the Rain
Christmas Day – 2.05pm More4

They just don’t make them like this anymore. They tried to with The Artist a couple of years ago but great as that was it wasn’t as great as Singin’ in the Rain.

Casablanca
Christmas Day – 2.35pm C5

Where do you start with Casablanca? It is considered one of the finest films ever made and for very good reason. It is exciting, it is moving, it is inspiring, it is romantic, it is funny and it has one if the greatest screen couples of all time. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (now, she’s low maintenance) don’t seem like an obvious pairing but are totally believable together. He is more laid back than George Clooney and she is the most beautiful woman ever to grace the silver screen.

*Toy Story 3
Christmas Day – 3.20pm BBC1

This does for animated feature films what Gandhi did for regular movies. It explores the big issues, teaches us lessons about how to live our lives and has a cast of thousands. Toy Story 3 is both Pixar Studios’ finest hour, the pinnacle of a staggeringly consistent run of quality films and also the last great film they made followed as it was by Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University.

*Tangled
Christmas Day – 3.20pm ITV

At some stage the people in charge of Disney Animation sat round a table with a load of questions. Which fairytales haven’t we done yet? How can we make a princess film that appeals to boys as well as girls? Do we really have to name the film after the female protagonist? Can we please have a princess character who is a strong role model? Can we make a CGI cartoon that has the same charm as all of those old cel animation movies? Is Alan Menken still available to do the songs? All of these questions are satisfactorily answered in Tangled?

*The Muppet Christmas Carol
Christmas Day – 4.35pm C4

Having not made a successful Muppets film for some time I think they toned down the mania of the puppets for this one. It works all the better for this and it also allows them to pay due reverence to the source material; this is as much a Dickens movie as it is a Muppet one. I also love the fact that this film was made in the same year as we got ground breaking creature animation and special effects in Jurassic Park yet here you can still see the knuckles in the back of Kermit’s head.

The Troll Hunter
Christmas Day – 11.25pm Film4

The Norwegian Prime Minister once made a facetious comment on TV about the country having so many pylons because they served as fences to keep the giant trolls in. Someone thought that was a good idea for a film and they were right. This is a ridiculous film that takes itself totally seriously to wonderfully entertaining effect, like Jurassic Park meets Fraggle Rock.

A Matter of Life and Death
Thursday 26th Dec – 3.05am C4

The opening scene of this film has the most wonderful display of British stiff upper lip heroics that you could ever hope to see as David Niven is forced to jump from his WW2 bomber without a parachute. Before he leaps he contacts base and has his last conversation with June, the radio operator who just happens to be on the other end. Quentin Tarantino wishes he could write dialogue like this:

Peter: What’s your name?
June: June.
Peter: Yes June, I’m bailing out. I’m bailing out but there’s a catch, I’ve got no parachute.

Peter: June, are you pretty?
June: Not bad.
Peter: Can you hear me as well as I hear you?
June: Yes.
Peter: You’ve got a good voice. You’ve got guts too. It’s funny – I’ve known dozens of girls: I’ve been in love with some of them, but an American girl whom I’ve never seen and who I never shall see will hear my last words. That’s funny. It’s rather sweet. June, if you’re around when they pick me up, turn your head away?

You have to see this film just for this scene and if you decide to keep watching then all the better.

Emma
Thursday 26th Dec – 12.05pm BBC2

I’m not a big Jane Austen fan, which is an ongoing bone of contention in my house but I really like this book and this adaptation. My problem with Austen is that her heroines are a little too perfect. That isn’t a problem here.

*High Society
Thursday 26th Dec – 12.45pm C5

The Philadelphia Story has a great cast; James Stewart, Cary Grant and Kathryn Hepburn, but the line up for this musical version of the same play comes a very close second. I give you Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Celeste Holm. The moment where the fourth wall is chipped by Sinatra and Cosby ribbing one another about their singing styles is just one of many great moments in this fantastic film. We sat down recently and watched this with my nine year old daughter and she loved it. It was a joy to share.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Thursday 26th Dec – 7.15pm ITV

Splitting the final book of a series into two films has become the norm but when HP did it there was still something to discuss. Was the decision artistic or financial? For me it is the former and I love the slower pace of this first (seventh) film. Part 2 follows on New Years Day.

*633 Squadron
Friday 27th Dec – 12noon C5

World War 2 flying aces in an impossible mission. This has a similar plot and style to the better known Dambusters (which is also on over Christmas) but I prefer this film. Films like this used to show on TV in the afternoons, before daytime chat shows and quizzes infected the schedules, and they were an important part of my film education.

*Enchanted
Friday 27th Dec – 2.35pm BBC1

Enchanted does for Disney Princess movies what Scream did for Horror movies, both lampooning and exemplifying its genre. If any one other than Disney had done it Enchanted would have seemed mean and petulant but as it is the film is affectionate towards the conventions it mocks. The opening animated section is a brilliant parody and only needs the slightest exaggeration to work. Disney showed a new maturity with this film and its sensibilities flow strongly through Frozen.

*Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Friday 27th Dec – 4.10pm C5

Dick Van Dyke is a comedy genius and this film is the best thing he ever did. The ‘Old Bamboo’ dance routine is just brilliant.

*The Princess Bride
Saturday 28th Dec – 4pm C5

It speaks for itself:

“Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles. Doesn’t sound too bad.”

Another of my favourite films. I liked it so much I named my blog after it.

The Italian Job
Saturday 28th Dec – 7pm C4

This is the original Michael Caine/Noel Coward/Benny Hill version not the surprisingly good remake and is quite possibly the greatest heist movie ever made. It is also absolutely drenched in the 1960s.

The Holiday
Saturday 28th Dec – 10.30pm ITV

This one is a real guilty pleasure because it is very cheesy and full of annoying cliches. Still, if you can’t go cheesy at Christmas when can you? Kate Winslet is excellent as ever and Jack Black also puts in a charming and restrained performance. I’ll take this over Love Actually any month of the year.

*Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Sunday 29th Dec – 3.55pm C4

A refreshingly unconventional book series carries its sensibilities into an equally unconventional film. This takes three books and turns them into one film which is the exact opposite of what they are doing with The Hobbit.

*The Railway Children
Monday 30th Dec – 11.25am ITV

A beautifully old fashioned film (made in 1970 but set in 1905) that still works for a modern audience, with the exception of the doctor whose friendly interest in an 18 year old Jenny Agutter comes across as a little creepy now. Please don’t let that put you off though, this is a wonderful movie and that ending makes me well up every time.

*Coraline
Monday 30th Dec – 2pm C4

This wonderful stop motion film is directed by Henry Selick, the same man who called the shots on The Nightmare Before Christmas. Coraline doesn’t have that film’s seasonal appeal but is superior in every other way. It is more beautiful, more creative and more moving but be warned it is also more frightening. I’d never understood koumpounophobia before seeing this film but now I kind of get it.

*Mary Poppins
Monday 30th Dec – 4.15pm BBC1

Dick Van Dyke is a comedy genius and this film is the second best thing he ever did. The ‘Chim Chim Che-ree’ dance routine is just brilliant.

Kind Hearts and Coronets
Tuesday 31st Dec – 8pm BBC4

A light comedy with a delightfully dark heart, featuring eight of Alec Guinness’s greatest performances. The best film ever to come out of Ealing Studios and that is a high accolade indeed.

Rebecca
Friday 3rd Jan – 2pm BBC2

This is the first film Hitchcock made in America and was the only one of his works to win the Oscar for Best Film. I’m cool with that as it is one of my favourites. It is compelling and atmospheric and has two brilliant performances from Laurence Olivier and George Sanders which operate at opposite ends of the spectrum. Olivier is all tense and broody and Sanders oozes laid back, smarmy charm. The film hangs on the great work of actress Joan Fontaine though who also got the Oscar. This is another one off, with her being the only one of Hitchcock’s leading ladies to do so. Sadly Joan Fontaine passed away just this week, on the same day as Peter O’Toole.

Drive
Friday 3rd Jan – 10pm BBC2

A lot of the films listed here would be perfect to sit down and watch with your kids. This one is not. 18 certificates are not that common these days but this film earns it. Surprising then that director Nicholas Winding Refn has said it loosely follows a fairy tale framework with the main characters playing the archetypes of white knight, damsel in distress, evil monarch and dragon. To me it feels more like a contemporary western though with the hero and his four wheeled steed. When, in seven years time, I write a list of my favourite films of the decade I am pretty sure this one is going to be on the list.

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6 thoughts on “Recommended films to catch on the UK Freeview channels over Christmas

  1. Ooo, you need a comment box under each film! Rebecca – watched this for the 1st time at the weekend and have decided that Kristen Stewart lifted all her mannerisms and nervous (pre-vampire) disposition from Joan Fontaine – to begin with I couldnt warm to her character, but then of course Hitch drew me in with his clever camera angles and lighting and I was there!

  2. Tangled – yep, surprisingly this does appeal to my boys as well as the little girl I baby sat all last year. We all agreed the horse was hilarious!
    Havent seen A matter of loaf..sorry, life and death, so I shall watch it at last.
    Like the sound of the Troll Hunter
    And the 7ft invisible rabbit of course 🙂

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