From classics to cults: Our pick of the best TV Christmas films

Daniel Craig as James Bond and Ana de Armas as Paloma in No Time To Die
Daniel Craig as James Bond and Ana de Armas as Paloma in No Time To Die

It’s A Wonderful Life, Christmas Eve, Channel 4 (1.25pm)

Considering it was made in 1946, Frank Capra’s wonderful film took a while to find its feet and establish itself as the Christmas film bar none. A flop on release, it was only when it began to be shown on US television in the mid-1970s that it started to acquire the classic status it now enjoys. In the UK, a theatrical release in the early Noughties gave it a similar boost and today it’s a Christmas Eve staple. James Stewart stars as George Bailey, about to throw himself off a bridge on Christmas Eve 1945 when a guardian angel (second class) decides to intervene and show him what life would be like without him. If you don’t have a tear in your eye in the joyous, life-affirming final scene you’re not human.

HeraldScotland: Clockwise from top: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Jimmy Hawkins, Larry Simms and Karolyn Grimes. (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images).
HeraldScotland: Clockwise from top: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Jimmy Hawkins, Larry Simms and Karolyn Grimes. (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images).

Clockwise from top: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Jimmy Hawkins, Larry Simms and Karolyn Grimes. (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images). (Image: free)

Aladdin, Christmas Day, BBC One (3.10pm)

Will Smith stars in Guy Ritchie’s live action take on the 1992 Disney animation. Sporting a top knot, Smith plays the Genie who grants three wishes to whoever rubs the lamp containing him. That someone, of course, is Mena Massoud’s Aladdin, a street urchin who has fallen for Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Ranged against them is the power-hungry Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who wants the lamp for his own nefarious purposes. If you haven’t made it to a pantomime yet, this is probably the next best thing.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes/Some Like It Hot, Christmas Day, BBC Two (3.10pm)

A Marilyn double bill, kicking off with Howard Hawks’s 1953 musical comedy in which Monroe plays gold-digging showgirl Lorelei Lee alongside Jane Russell’s Dorothy Shaw, both passengers on a liner heading for Paris. Hoagy Carmichael contributed to the music, but it’s Jule Styne’s Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend which is the showstopper in this technicolour treat. That’s followed at 4.40pm by Billy Wilder’s iconic 1959 romp, in which down-on-their luck musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis don drag to join Marilyn Monroe’s all-female touring jazz band in order to escape a gang of Chicago mobsters following their witnessing of the notorious St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Monroe was never better.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Boxing Day, C5 (10.40am)

The sexual politics may be at odds with today’s norms, but Blake Edwards’s 1961 adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella remains a delight. Capote always maintained that his kooky heroine, Holly Golightly, was “an American geisha” rather than a sex worker and here she’s billed as a café society girl. The Little Black Dress worn by star Audrey Hepburn has gone into both fashion and movie history, and though she wouldn’t have won any music competitions her rendition of Moon River is one of the film’s highlights. George Peppard is penniless writer Paul Varjak, the neighbour who falls under her spell.

HeraldScotland: Goodfellas
HeraldScotland: Goodfellas

Goodfellas (Image: free)

Goodfellas, Boxing Day, BBC Two (10.15pm)

Martin Scorsese returns to the sub-genre that made his name – charting the ups and downs of Italian American mobsters – with this 1990 adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s non-fiction book Wiseguy, about mafioso-turned-informer Henry Hill. Ray Liotta is Hill, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci the Brooklyn hoodlums he falls in with as a young man. Lorraine Bracco also stars, and eagle-eyed viewers may catch sight of a young Michael Imperioli, who would later find acclaim as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos. Goodfellas is grim and violent, but don’t let that put you off: it’s hailed by many as a masterpiece and together with two later films, Casino and The Wolf Of Wall Street, forms what’s known as Scorsese’s ‘Greed Trilogy’.

1917, December 27, BBC One (9pm)

Not the cheeriest of subjects, perhaps, but there’s no denying that Sam Mendes created a cinematic tour-de-force with this edge-of-the-seat thriller set on the Western Front during World War One. It was lensed by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins who shot the carefully choreographed action in long shots to give the impression of a single continuous shot – pretty impressive for a film with a two-hour running time. George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are the squaddies tasked with carrying a vital message across No Man’s Land.

HeraldScotland: The Goonies
HeraldScotland: The Goonies

The Goonies (Image: free)

The Goonies, December 27, C5 (4.50pm)

Fans of Stranger Things will enjoy dipping into one of the hit Netflix show’s key influences in this 1985 horror comedy, directed by Richard Donner from a story by Steven Spielberg. Pirates, gangsters and buried treasure all feature as a group of youngsters led by Sean Astin’s Mikey Walsh head off into the caves around their Oregon hometown for the adventure of a lifetime. A young Josh Brolin also stars.

HeraldScotland: Morfydd Clark as Maud in British horror film Saint Maud
HeraldScotland: Morfydd Clark as Maud in British horror film Saint Maud

Morfydd Clark as Maud in British horror film Saint Maud (Image: free)

Saint Maud/Carrie, December 28, Film 4 (12.05am)

Young British director Rose Glass served up both a commercial and an arthouse hit with this unsettling chiller, one of a wave of horror films from female directors. It charts the mental disintegration of private nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark) as she cares for the terminally ill Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a bohemian older woman who doesn’t share Maud’s fierce religious devotion. Shot in a palette of browns – Glass uses literally every shade – it’s a strongly authored work that leaves an impression. Stayed tuned after the credits roll and you’ll have yourself quite the double bill: Brian De Palma’s iconic 1976 horror Carrie follows at 1.50am.

The Addams Family, December 29, Film 4 (4.50pm)

Loving Wednesday, the blockbuster Netflix series from Tim Burton which pitches Wednesday Addams into a Hogwarts-style adventure? If so, check out Barry Sonnenfeld’s original 1991 movie version of the much-loved 1960s series. Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia play parents Morticia and Gomez, Back To The Future’s Christopher Lloyd is Uncle Fester and Christina Ricci, who has a significant guest role in Wednesday, plays the pig-tailed goth girl herself. Interestingly, directorial duties were initially offered to Burton, but he had to pass in order to make Batman – clearly the itch remained, even if he waited three decades to scratch it.

Witness For The Prosecution/Murder On The Orient Express, December 30, BBC Two (2.30pm)

A bumper treat for Agatha Christie fans. First up, Billy Wilder’s 1957 take on her 1953 play of the same name. Charles Laughton is the barrister who undertakes to defend Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), accused of murdering a wealthy widow for her estate. Alongside them in a stellar supporting cast are horror queen Elsa Lanchester and the great Marlene Dietrich, playing Vole’s wife. That’s followed at 4.40pm by Sidney Lumet’s 1974 whodunnit. Albert Finney is Poirot, while Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud and Jacqueline Bisset are along for the ride. Sure, you’ve seen it before. Does it matter?

Yesterday, Hogmanay, BBC One (7.20pm)

Danny Boyle directs this crowd-pleasing romantic comedy/alternative reality wig-out which relies on some kind of 12 second power outage removing all trace of The Beatles from both the collective memory and the internet. A bonkers idea well executed by an accomplished director it stars Himesh Patel as down-on-his-luck busker Jack Malik, who wakes up to find he’s the only person alive who remember the Fab Four. Even better, he can remember most of their songs …

The Full Monty, Hogmanay, BBC Four (9.15pm)

Released a year after Trainspotting, this is film which cemented Robert Carlyle’s reputation as one of the foremost actors of his generation. A nimble blend of social commentary and feel-good whimsy, Peter Cattaneo’s film casts Carlyle as an unemployed steel worker who teams up with three pals to make ends meet by forming their own male striptease crew. A sort of Yorkshire version of the Chippendales, if you like. Mark Addy, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Woof also star.

Singin’ In The Rain, New Year’s Day, C5 (1.15pm)

Sight And Sound’s recently published list of the 100 Greatest Films Of All Time placed this iconic 1952 film at number 10, which also makes it the greatest musical ever made. It’s hard to argue, so don’t bother. Co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, and choreographed by them, it stars Kelly as silent film star Don Lockwood, Donald O’Connor as best pal Cosmo Brown and Debbie Reynolds, only 19 when filming began, as feisty chorus girl Kathy Selden. The background to the story is the coming of the talkies, so it’s a film about filmmaking. But it’s the songs, the super-slick dance sequences and the sheer bravura of the leads’ performances which give it its evergreen kick. A stone-cold classic.

No Time To Die, New Year’s Day, STV (8pm)

Despite the gold dust sprinkled on the script by Phoebe Waller-Bridge nobody could claim Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond to be the best of the lot. But it’s probably joint second with Skyfall, which makes its appearance in the Christmas television schedules a welcome one. Léa Seydoux and Christoph Waltz return as Dr Madeleine Swann and Ernst Blofeld respectively, Lashana Lynch joins the cast as the new 007 – how that fact set tongues wagging ahead of release! – and there’s a show-stopping performance by Rami Malek as Bond villain Lyutsifer Safin. Oh, and Billie Eilish’s brooding theme song isn’t bad either.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, January 2, BBC Two (10pm)

The plus sign denotes that this is Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 take on the famous story about young Romeo and his ill-starr’d lover Juliet. The place: Verona Beach, a California-style setting, where two rival business empires are slugging it out for dominance. Enter Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as scions of, respectively, the Montague and Capulet families. A bravura piece of filmmaking, it’s worth watching for the soundtrack alone – a neat snapshot of mid-1990s indie rock which includes Radiohead, Garbage and The Cardigans.