Christmas 2013: best films on TV today, Tuesday 31 December

The Godfather, Fiddler on the Roof, Mamma Mia!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Kind Hearts and Coronets and How to Train Your Dragon

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Fiddler on the Roof – 11.15am, Channel 5

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Through the tale of Tevye and his search for husbands for his five daughters, director Norman Jewison describes the tragic background to the expulsion of the Jews from the Ukraine and the dissolution of their traditions. As Tevye the garrulous milkman, Topol is memorable, and to have his performance (he played the part on the London stage) preserved on film is a major plus. But the real gem here is the Oscar-winning soundtrack. The songs – including If I Were a Rich Man and Sunrise, Sunset – provide joyful and sublime highlights, the fiddler is Isaac Stern, and Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s wonderful score is magnificently adapted by John Williams.

How to Train Your Dragon – 4:00pm, BBC1

Cressida Cowell’s successful children’s book gets an exciting animated adaptation here from co-writers/directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch). Teenager Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) belongs to a belligerent Viking tribe that sees dragons as their mortal enemy. But Hiccup is a secret dragon-whisperer and when he helps, rather than kills, a wounded Night Fury dragon nicknamed Toothless, he sets a new course for his family and friends. 

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – 5:00pm, Channel 5

This joyous romp remains one of the freshest and most satisfying of movie musicals. A screen original, based on Stephen Vincent Benet’s verse play updating The Rape of the Sabine Women (“Tell ya ’bout them sobbin’ women… “), it was fashioned by director Stanley Donen and choreographer Michael Kidd into an exciting, heart-warming and technically accomplished (though perhaps a shade politically incorrect) film.

Mamma Mia! – 8:00pm, ITV

This shiny, happy romantic comedy set to Abba’s greatest hits has already proved a winning formula on stage and with this big-screen adaptation it’s been taken up another notch. Meryl Streep sings her heart out here as ageing rock chick-turned-hotel owner Donna, whose daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is about to get married on the Greek island where they live. But the wedding is thrown into chaos when three of Donna’s ex-lovers (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) turn up. Each has a case for being Sophie’s father, but only one stakes a claim on Donna’s heart. The fun is in watching usually straight actors like Streep, Brosnan and company throwing caution to the wind and making up for weak vocals with infectious gusto.

Kind Hearts and Coronets – 8:00pm, BBC4

This superb comédie noire from director Robert Hamer has a deliciously witty script that slips smoothly between dastardly deaths in the guise of a self-satisfied memoir. 

The Godfather – 9:00pm, Film4

The Mafia tale of feuding families, director Francis Ford Coppola has you hooked from the opening wedding scene to the chilling moment when a new Godfather is hailed. And, of course, it includes the immortal line: “We’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”


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