Christmas for the arts is a treat for the senses — eyes and ears, of course, but some programmes you’d like to touch, too.
Uplifting first. Arena: Sister Wendy and the Art of the Gospel (Christmas Day, BBC2) gently turns the camera on her extraordinary life as a Carmelite nun. The film-maker, Randall Wright, had to make a bargain with the shrewd 82-year-old. He wanted the inside track on her life, while the octogenarian wanted to tell the gospel through Old Master paintings in the Louvre and the National Galleries — so they made a deal. All the better for us.
For The People’s Songs, which begins on Wednesday 2 January on Radio 2, sit back, close your eyes and let Stuart Maconie guide you through the story of modern Britain with 50 records that have provided a soundtrack to cultural changes in the UK. Themes range from the optimism that infused music after the Second World War, to the divisions in society that echoed through punk and the obsession with celebrity.
Then it’s time to take to the drinks cabinet to mix an Old Fashioned and be transported to Hollywood — to the era of the great women stars from the early 1900s to the collapse of the studio system in the 1960s. The likes of Lillian Gish, Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth… Arena: Screen Goddesses (Saturday 22 December, BBC4) chronicles the era with footage that takes you into their glamorous and sometimes tragic lives.
For something to send a shiver up your spine, there’s a macabre version of the usually light-hearted Coppelia (Saturday 22 December, Sky Arts 2), choreographer Patrice Bart’s last-ever production with the Paris Opera after a 50-year career there. Creepy and fantastic, this mysterious and tense Coppelia is a joy. It’s preceded by a documentary about the production.
And finally, who wouldn’t want to see what’s billed as “a kaleidoscopic fairytale suspended between Mozart and Disney with a hint of noir”? This version of Cinderella, Cenerentola (Christmas Day, BBC2), is a film/ opera event from producer Andrea Andermann that flies around the palaces and ballrooms of Turin and uses beautiful, never-before-seen animation. Lena Belkina plays Cinderella. This is one to savour with a glass of wine.