The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug★★★ Premiere 7.45-10.45pm ITV
The scaly mid-section of Peter Jackson’s second Tolkien trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, is as finely tuned, visually resplendent and eager to entertain as we’ve frankly come to expect. Martin Freeman remains the key casting decision as Bilbo Baggins, carrying the story while flanked by Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his fellow dwarves, and sporadically assisted by Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom). Their quest covers Milkwood, Nazgul, Esgaroth and Laketown, although not necessarily in that order, and they effect amazing escapes – a particular corker involving wine barrels and some rapids, which strains at the parameters of special effects. But the endpoint is Lonely Mountain, where the giant dragon voiced with booming relish by Benedict Cumberbatch guards the Arkenstone. If any of that leaves you cold, you’re watching the wrong film franchise. The book was read to me at primary school and remains dear, although I remember it being a whole lot shorter. Next, The Battle of the Five Armies.