Small-Screen Christmas Jabber

Christmas Eve

maigret in montmartre

Best drama: Rowan Atkinson returns as French detective Jules Maigret in the latest adaptation of the Georges Simonon novels, Maigret in Montmartre (ITV, 8.30pm). As with the previous three outings, this is a crime drama that ambles at a thoughtful, leisurely pace, with Atkinson bringing nuance to his role – calm, measured and uxorious rather than a maverick with A Big Secret. Stripper Arlette overhears two men at her Montmartre nightclub plotting to rob a countess and reports it to the chief inspector. Shortly after, her body turns up and so does that of the countess. Maigret is drawn into the seedy side of Montmartre’s nightlife, before linking the two deaths and heading to Nice to solve the murders. Lorraine Ashbourne, Sean Dooley and Lucy Cohu co-star.

ratburger

Best family show: Sheridan Smith stars as indolent stepmum Sheila in Ratburger (Sky 1, 6pm), based on David Walliams’ children’s novel. Stepdaughter Zoe is being bullied at school and adopts a dancing rat called Armitage, who gets stolen by Burt the Burgerman (Walliams). Zoe discovers Burt’s burgers are made from rats and she sets out to rescue Armitage. Without giving too much away, both Burt and Sheila meet a grisly end while Armitage is saved. This rollicks along at a great pace and will delight kids and parents alike, especially if you like Roald Dahl’s morality tales.

Best Christmas carols: It’s just not Christmas without Carols from Kings (BBC2, 5.45pm); others are available but it’s no contest. As usual, the singing is live from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and keeps up the tradition by opening with a boy soprano singing Once in Royal David’s City. This is your cue to pour the eggnog and offer mince pies. For something more contemporary, catch Christmas TOTP2 Special (BBC2, 11.55pm) – a selection box of all the cheesy festive hits.

Best film: Happy Feet (ITV2, 4.40pm). Fabulous animation from George Miller about the struggles of outcast penguin Mumbles. After his dad accidentally drops him while still in his egg, Mumbles is born unable to sing and is doomed not to find love as a result. But his astounding talent for dancing is the saving of him and he sets off on many adventures before being reconciled with his tribe. There’s a fine soundtrack and also a strong ecological message about the threat to our oceans.

Christmas Day

upstart crow christmas crow

Best comedy: David Mitchell’s hit Shakespearean sitcom Upstart Crow gets a deserved seasonal special, A Christmas Crow (BBC2, 8.25pm). Will Shakespeare is struggling to complete his new play, Eighth Night, before its debut performance in front of Elizabeth 1 (Emma Thompson). Upstart fans will be delighted with the usual serving of knowing satirical gags, but this is also a delightfully Christmassy heart-warmer about the importance of love.

victoria christmas special 2017

Best drama special: Lots to choose from, but my top pick is Victoria (ITV, 9pm), in which her majesty (Jenna Coleman) and Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) discover their idea of a good Christmas is not the same. Jolly Albert tries to cajole the pregnant Victoria into a better frame of mind in this lavish two-hour special. They are pushed further apart by the arrival of an African orphan, but when Albert is struck by illness in the snow, Victoria sets their differences aside.

Best drama runner-up: It’s Peter Capaldi’s last outing as The Doctor in Doctor Who (BBC1, 5.30pm) – he comes face to face with the first Doctor (David Bradley) while assisting an army captain stuck in the First World War trenches and is forced to face his future. There are some deft references to the 50-year metamorphic visual gap between the pair and it’s a fine exit for Capaldi before he regenerates into Jodie Whittaker’s first female incarnation.

Best entertainment: Given Christmas Day is usually devoted to eating, it’s fitting that The Great Christmas Bake Off (C4, 7.40pm) will see four former contestants return to the tent to face some fiendish festive challenges from judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood. The bakes are still secret but you can expect seasonal ingredients like spice and dried fruits. Another four familiar faces take up more challenges on Boxing Day.

la boheme 2017

Best music: It’s been 40 years since Puccini’s classic opera was last staged at the Royal Opera House, but this new production of La Bohème (BBC4, 7pm) introduces the rising generation of opera singers in one of the most accessible operas, which has been modernised (to some controversy). A young seamstress called Mimi is drawn into the milieu of a group of impoverished young artists who share an apartment in the same building. She falls in love with Rodolfo, the poet of the group, only to leave him later, in this classic tale of love, loss and reconciliation.

Best film: Skyfall (ITV2, 7.45pm). Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond is easily the most polished and rounded of all the films in the franchise. Bond’s mission is to track down an embittered former agent who is threatening MI6’s very existence. Packed with some fantastic set pieces, it’s bookended by a thrilling opening sequence in which Bond pursues an enemy through Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and onto a speeding train, and a pull-out-all-the-stops spectacular finale in which 007’s ancestral home goes up in flames.

Boxing Day

the miniaturist

Best drama: In 17th century Amsterdam young bride Nella (Anya Taylor-Joy) discovers married life is not what she expected in The Miniaturist (BBC1, 9pm, also Thurs), adapted from Jessie Burton’s bestseller. Her wealthy merchant husband, Johannes, is away and the household is run by his cold sister Marin (Romola Garai) and two secretive servants. She is given a doll’s house as a wedding present that is a replica of her new home, but the miniature furnishings and dolls start to predict a sinister future. Suitably spooky, sumptuous to look at and full of smoke and mirrors, there is tension and intrigue aplenty as secrets unravel in this tale of obsessive love, betrayal and retribution.

little women

Best drama runner-up: Heidi Thomas, who created Call the Midwife, has written a fresh adaptation of Little Women (BBC1, 8pm, continuing Wed/Thurs), which stars Emily Watson as Marmee. She is the mother of the four young March girls – Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth – and guides them through adolescence into adulthood, in this classic coming of age story set in 19th century America.

royal institution christmas lectures sophie scott

Best factual: Sound is the theme for this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures: the Language of Life (BBC4, 8pm) over three consecutive evenings. Neuroscientist Sophie Scott explores how animals communicate through sound, with some impressive experiments with insects. Silence, too, is a language – Scott looks at how we and animals use other senses to speak to one another, such as smell or body language, before turning her attention to the human spoken word. What I love about the annual lectures is that they are always lively and offer the unexpected, while making complex topics highly accessible. Unmissable.

Best film: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (5Star, 9pm). The late Alan Rickman steals every scene as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham in this classic blockbuster, which is just as well because while Kevin Costner acquits himself well as Robin of Locksley he’s a tad bland and sexless alongside Rickman. Morgan Freeman brings class and quiet understatedness as the noble Moor Azeem, who accompanies Robin on his adventures. This version reworks the old legend extremely well, providing plenty of swashbuckling and derring do that holds up well for three hours.

Louise Bolotin is Screenjabber’s TV critic. She has a penchant for quality drama and quirky documentaries, slums it with EastEnders and pities people who watch reality TV, which might be why she never writes about The X Factor.

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