From Mrs Brown’s Boys to A Very British Scandal: What the critics said about Christmas TV

·3-min read

Christmas once again proved to be a major season for new TV, with critics sharing their thoughts on everything from A Very British Scandal to Mrs Brown’s Boys.

The most watched show (outside of the Queen’s annual speech) was the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special, which was viewed by 5.8 million viewers and won by singer Anne-Marie and Graziano Di Prima.

BBC One took eight of the 10 most watched programmes on Christmas Day, with viewers also tuning into BBC programmes on Boxing Day.

One of the biggest shows of the festive season was A Very British Scandal, which was widely lauded by reviewers and viewers alike.

In a five-star review, The Independent’s Ed Cumming called the drama, which stars Claire Foy and Paul Bettany as the Duchess and Duke of Argyll, “compelling”.

“Right at the end of the year, after all the “best of 2021” lists have been and gone, we have a candidate for the most stylish drama of the year. One of the saddest, too,” he wrote.

The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan also gave the show five stars, praising Sarah Phelps’s “lean, mean script and its refusal to reinvent the duchess as an icon of the movement”.

Paul Bettany and Sophie Ward in ‘A Very British Scandal' (BBC / Blueprint Pictures)
Paul Bettany and Sophie Ward in ‘A Very British Scandal' (BBC / Blueprint Pictures)

In a three-star review in The Times, Carol Midgley said that while the opening episode was slow, things promised to get “frightfully dirty” in the rest of the four-part series, adding: “Overall I think this is a four-star series which gets better with each episode.”

Another of Boxing Day’s biggest shows was the new BBC adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, with The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson comparing David Tennant’s Phileas Fogg to “a Victorian Jeff Bezos”.

The Independent’s Cumming was less convinced by the first episode, writing in a two-star review: “The idea is to introduce a subplot about racism and social justice, but the long action sequences come at the expense of any meaningful character development, especially among the leads.”

However, Joe Clay wrote in The Times that the show eventually picked up pace after a slow start.

“Of course the writing team were hampered in getting it off to a flyer by the fact that this scene-setting is essential to the story,” Clay wrote. “ If you’re adapting a classic, you can’t veer too far from the plot as it was written in 1872.”

The Mezzotint, which aired on Christmas Eve, also received rave reviews, with Radio Times’s Huw Fullerton calling Rory Kinnear’s ghost stories “Mark Gatiss’s scariest Christmas offering yet”.

It also received a five-star review from The Independent’s O’Grady, who wrote: “There’s no disappointment with The Mezzotint; if anything, all those involved have exceeded themselves. It’s very creepy indeed.”

Brendan O’Carroll and Conor Moloney in ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys' (BBC / Alan Peebles)
Brendan O’Carroll and Conor Moloney in ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys' (BBC / Alan Peebles)

At the bottom of the critics’ list was Mrs Brown’s Boys, which returned for its annual Christmas special but failed to break into the top 10 most watched shows on Christmas Day.

The Independent’s Sean O’Grady called the episode “a hellish place where wit has gone to die” in a scathing one-star review.

In The Irish Times, Ed Power said that Mrs Brown’s Boys was “super-charged marmite television”, but praised the show for its earnest speech about the importance of getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

On ITV, The Larkins was also criticised, with The Independent’s Cumming writing: “This featherlight fantasy vision of rural life in 1950s Kent, with simplistic moral lessons, cracker-standard gags and characters thinner than a paper hat, is well suited to a mixed-ability audience dulled by food and wine. Still, after 70 minutes, you wonder if going to bed might have been preferable.”

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