We Bought a Zoo, A Single Man, Billy Elliot: films on TV today

Matt Damon has animal magnetism, Colin Firth has bags of style, while Jamie Bell was born to dance: the RadioTimes team’s pick of free-to-air films on TV today

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ANDREW COLLINS: FILM OF THE DAY 
We Bought a Zoo ★★★
Premiere 1.30-3.55pm C4 

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It’s difficult to pin writer/director Cameron Crowe down. He’s conquered grunge drama (Singles), sports-based romance (Jerry Maguire) and 1970s rock-band odyssey (Almost Famous). But 2011’s We Bought a Zoo, which he co-wrote with Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), breaks new ground: a true-life family comedy drama for all ages. Benjamin Mee’s memoir has been moved from Devon to California and stars Matt Damon as the widower whose “fresh start” with his 14-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter involves buying a house that comes with – you’re ahead of me – a zoo. It doesn’t take a mystic to work out that the grand reopening will be beset with problems, or that Damon’s defences will eventually crumble in the face of employee Scarlett Johansson (she is, literally, a keeper), but the ride is so sunny and wholesome and the animals (porcupines, bear, monkeys, tiger) so cute, it’s pretty hard to remain stony-faced, even if, like me, you’re against the very idea of zoos.


A Single Man ★★★★
11.00pm-12.30am BBC2 

As a fashion designer, Tom Ford turned around the business at Gucci before heading up at Yves Saint Laurent and launching his own brand. Then he turned to directing, and the result was A Single Man. It’s as stylish a debut as you can imagine, a cool, great-looking 1960s-set drama, with Colin Firth as an academic quietly deciding if his life is worth living after the death of his lover. Some may think it too reserved, and over-controlled, but Firth carries the movie by being the living embodiment of the movie’s design. 


Billy Elliot ★★★★
9.00-10.45pm BBC4 

The artistic muse breaks free of a working-class straitjacket in Stephen Daldry’s rightly lauded 1980’s-set born-to-dance drama. Jamie Bell gives a heart-stopping performance as the 11-year-old whose instinctive love of ballet makes him either a torch to be lit by Julie Walters’s straight-talking ballet teacher or doused by his coalminer dad, who, in the middle of a national strike, would rather his son took up boxing.


The Simpsons Movie ★★★★
8.00-9.45pm E4 

The world’s most famous cartoon family deserved their first full-length feature to come out this well. The writers (11 of them) manage to leapfrog the usual problem of TV-to-movie adaptation with a story that doesn’t just feel like an extended episode, though it sensibly wraps things up before the 90-minute barrier. The main story sees Homer cause an environmental disaster all for the love of a pig, and once such narrative logic has been swallowed, all that follows has a wonderful inevitability that would have Thomas Hardy taking notes.    


Dark Skies ★★★
Premiere 10.00-11.50pm C5 

A downtrodden suburban family is terrorised by a series of predictable shocks in this diverting enough amalgamation of other ghost stories and alien tales. Fair enough, everything’s lined up nicely by director Scott Stewart, and the movie benefits from the presence of Keri Russell as the weary mother and JK Simmons’s refreshing turn as the crazy alien-abduction expert, but the fear factor is only going to grab you if you can’t remember where you originally saw each incident.


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