Small-Screen Jabber – Christmas and New Year

Christmas Eve

click and collect

Click and Collect (BBC1, 9pm). A modern morality tale about internet shopping, instant gratification and what happens when it goes wrong. Stephen Merchant stars as dad Andrew, determined to find this year’s must-have Christmas present – a toy unicorn – for his daughter. The only problem is, it’s sold out. But then neighbour Dev finds one a five-hour drive away – the very last one in-store. With a nod to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the duo set off on a nightmarish road trip littered with disasters and tension.

The Queen and I

The Queen and I (Sky 1, 6.35pm). Sue Townsend’s fantasy novel of 1992 makes it to the screen at last. After a socialist government deposes the royal family and strips them of their wealth and privilege, they are sent to live at Hell Close, a council sink estate, and must navigate the horrors of the benefits system while learning how to live on sliced white and baked beans. It’s a hilarious poke at the royals, and with some appropriate parallels for today, what with Jeremy Corbyn waiting the wings and the effects of austerity. David Walliams and Samantha Bond star as prime minster Jack Barker and the queen. Co-stars include Johnny Vegas, Amanda Abbington and Frances Barber.

the dead room

The Dead Room (BBC4, 10pm). Mark Gatiss has crafted another of his top-notch supernatural dramas. Simon Callow stars as Aubrey Judd, a jobbing actor who finds that the latest episode of the radio potboiler of the title goes hideously off-script as a dark secret from his past threatens to upend his comfortable life. Creepy, eerie and perfectly tuned.

Film of the day: Gremlins (ITV, 930pm). Among all the schmaltzy seasonal family films, this is the standout – it appeals as much to adults with a mischievous inner child as it does to younger viewers, and it hasn’t dated. Joe Dante’s black comedy stars Zach Gilligan as Billy, whose grandfather gives him a pet mogwai called Gizmo for Christmas. When Billy fails to follow strict instructions for looking after Gizmo, he unwittingly triggers an army of replica mogwais who go on a murderous rampage around town, causing death and destruction. Watch out for executive producer Steven Spielberg popping up in a cameo role as a man on a bicycle.

Christmas Day

torvill and dean

Torvill and Dean (ITV, 9.15pm). Never mind if you weren’t old to enjoy the ice-skating duo’s Olympic gold-winning ice dance in 1984. This feature-length drama tells the story of the two young skaters, from their humble roots in Nottingham, where they both grew up, to when they met, paired up and discovered their creative spark – the one that eventually led to that iconic performance to Ravel’s Bolero. Will Tudor and Poppy Lee Friar star in the title roles in one of the great sporting tales of our time.

royal ballet swan lake muntagirov nunez

The Royal Ballet: Swan Lake (BBC4, 7pm). Choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Tchaikovsky’s classic tale of Prince Siegfried, falls in love with the swan Odette, who can transform into a woman. She is cursed, which Siegfried vows to break, but evil lurks in the wings in the guise of Von Rothbart, who wants his own daughter Odile to marry Siegfried. Argentinian ballerina Marianela Nunez stars as Odette/Odile, the Russian Vadim Muntagirov is Siegfried.

Film of the day: Gosford Park (Paramount Network, 9.15pm). Robert Altman’s masterly ensemble murder mystery, written by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, sparkles with wit, great dialogue, excellent acting and a script that pokes fun at the aristocracy and British class politics. It’s a classic whodunnit in the style of Agatha Christie – Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon), the wealthy host of a party at his country mansion, gets offed in the library and the police (headed by Stephen Fry) must – Poirot style – try to find out who among the guests and servants is the killer. The all-star cast includes Maggie Smith, Charles Dance, Clive Owen, Tom Hollander, Helen Mirren and Emily Watson.

Boxing Day

ABC murders john malkovich

The ABC Murders (BBC1, 9pm, continues Thurs/Fri). John Malkovich stars as Hercule Poirot in this new take on one of Agatha Christie’s most popular whodunnits. A killer is sending letters to Poirot, taunting the detective and signed ABC. When the murder spree begins, the victims’ surnames are in alphabetical order and beside each body lies a copy of the ABC railway guide. Christie’s plot stretches credulity at times, but this new adaptation by Sarah Phelps (who has done the BBC’s previous recent Christie dramas) offers parallels with contemporary times – set in 1933, it brings to the fore the rise of fascism and suspicions about “Johnny Foreigner”. The cast is littered with stars – Rupert Grint, Tara Fitzgerald, Andrew Buchan, Shirley Henderson and more.

ken dodd bbc tribute

Morecambe and Wise / Ken Dodd (BBC2, from 7.05pm). A triple starting with a rerun of Morecambe and Wise’s Christmas Show of 1971, and then Morecambe and Wise: the Lost Tapes – believed to have been wiped and lost forever, two missing episodes of the pair’s classic show surfaced in Sierra Leone, in the archive of an abandoned cinema. Fully restored, here’s your chance to see these 1968 shows. Ken Dodd: How Tickled We Were is a lovely tribute to the much-loved comedian who died in March. His wife Ann and fellow performers reminisce about his life and comic genius, plus there are some iconic archive clips of the maestro in his prime.  

phantom of opera 2011

Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (Sky Arts, 5.15pm). This 2011 performance was recorded for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 25th anniversary of his spectacular musical. Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess star as the Phantom and Christine in this lavish stage production performed not in the West End but the sumptuous surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall.

Film of the day: Raiders of the Lost Ark (BBC1, 1.25pm). Yes, I know you’ve probably seen it a zillion times already but when you’re stuffed full of turkey sandwiches and it’s too cold to go for a walk, Steven Spielberg’s action adventure movie starring Harrison Ford as the iconic Indiana Jones still hits an awful lot of spots. Archaeologist Jones is on the hunt for the fabled Ark of the Covenant in Egypt, but so are some crazed and obsessive Nazi spies who want the ark for their fuhrer. As Jones and the Nazis both close in on the treasure, Indy rescues his furious ex-lover, navigates his way through booby traps galore and deals with swarms of rats and snakes. The pace is full tilt, with magnificent set pieces, plenty of humour and a cracking cast.

New Year’s Eve

MOTD: the 2018 World Cup Story (BBC1, 2.10pm). Just half an hour long but a neat look back at England’s best run in a World Cup since the 1990s, with Gareth Southgate’s team of largely unknown young players. Harry Kane was the breakout star scorer and as the squad made it through the round robin group matches and into the knockouts, the nation hardly dared to breathe as it looked like it just might be coming home after all. Alas, the dream was ended in the semi-finals but here’s your opportunity to relive the best moments.

war and peace cast 2016

War and Peace (Drama, 2pm). If you’re up for a buttock-numbing seven-hour stretch on the sofa, Andrew Davies’ 2016 remake for the BBC is here in all its six-episode glory. Tolstoy’s epic tale of five aristocratic families trying to survive Napoleon’s invasion of Russia is brilliantly revisited, with epic set pieces, nuanced story-telling, lavish production qualities and an all-star cast that includes James Norton, Paul Dano, Gillian Anderson and Lily James.

Seeing in the New Year: if you’re not going out, here’s the rundown of the best shows. New Year’s Eve Fireworks (BBC1, 11.55pm) is the annual display of the fireworks over the Thames in central London, plus the chimes of Big Ben. It’s bookended by Madness: Rock Big Ben Live (BBC1, 11.35pm and 12.10am), who will be dusting off their extensive back catalogue for a Thames-side gig. There’s light entertainment in the shape of Jane McDonald and Friends (Channel 5, 11.55pm) – the former cruise singer likes a good party, so this promises to be fun. Jools’ Annual Hootenanny (BBC2, 11.15pm) this year features Marc Almond, Nile Rogers and Chic, George Ezra, Michael Bublé, Jess Glynne and more, plus the 1st Battalion Scots Guards to pipe in 2019 at midnight.

Film of the day: Les Misérables (More4, 8pm). The BBC is launching a six-part serious drama of Les Mis the night before (Sunday 30 December) but the musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel is considerably lighter in tone despite the grimness of the plot. Former prisoner Jean Valjean takes on a new identity to escape a life of crime. Now an industrialist and mayor of his town, he rescues one of his sacked workers when she falls into prostitution. With the police closing in on him, he flees again to Paris, where he helps the poor. Meanwhile, the French revolution kicks off and Valjean joins the uprising. As the soldiers storm the barricades, Valjean slips away, spares his nemesis and takes care of his wards. Hugh Jackman stars as Valjean, Russell Crowe as police officer Javert and Anne Hathaway as Fantine the prostitute.

New Year’s Day

doctor who jodie whittaker

Doctor Who (BBC1, 7pm). The first festive special with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor’s newest incarnation is titled Resolution. The Doctor and her companions return to Earth to discover it is under threat from a mysterious evil force that is stirring from across the centuries of the planet’s history and could destroy Earth. The Doctor discovers the DNA of what she describes as “the most dangerous creature in the universe” that has lain buried below since the 9th century and is now killing whatever lies in its path. Expect a high-octane, action-packed hour as the Doctor, friends and the army battle to save Earth.

escape at dannemora

Escape at Dannemora (Sky Atlantic, 9pm). Directed by Ben Stiller, this seven-part drama is based on the true story of a prison breakout in 2015 in upstate New York. Two convicted killers, Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano), each have an illicit affair inside the Clinton Correctional Facility with married prison worker Tilly (Patricia Arquette), who helps the pair escape. What follows is a massive police manhunt headed by New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott (Bonnie Hunt). The opening episode sets the scene, depicting both the boredom and aggression in daily life in an American jail, Matt running the block in a deceptively laidback manner and Sweat and Tilly developing a bond. The series has been met with critical acclaim and nominated for two Golden Globes.

Film of the day: Bridge of Spies (Film4, 9pm). Another Spielberg classic, and based on a true story, Tom Hanks stars as mild-mannered but stubborn lawyer James B. Donovan, tasked with defending Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) at his trial so that justice can be seen to be done. Having persuaded the judge to spare Abel’s life in case they ever need to do a prisoner swap, Donovan then finds himself despatched to Berlin to oversee a swap of Abel for US pilot Gary Powers, who was shot down over the USSR. But Donovan wants a three-way swap to include American student Frederic Pryor, who became trapped in East Berlin as the Wall went up. What follows is a tense cat and mouse game as Donovan navigates the machinations of two superpowers and East Germany, culminating in the swap at Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge. Masterly storytelling, suspense by the bucketload and terrific chemistry between Hanks and Rylance.


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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