Barry Norman’s 12 films of Christmas

Our Radio Times resident film critic picks his favourite festive movies on in 2015


The turkey and Christmas pud are giving the digestive system hell and you’ve paid loyal attention to the Queen. Time now for a movie.

Ah, but which movie? With all those channels showing all those films, we’re quite spoilt for choice.

What about an old favourite? Plenty of those around and revisiting them is invariably a pleasure. Plenty of classics, too – films you’ve always meant to watch but somehow never did. And, naturally, you want something that’s not been on the box before.

Well, here’s my choice of 12 films for Christmas, beginning on an appropriately festive note.

Frank Capra’s superb It’s a Wonderful Life (Christmas Eve C4, New Year’s Day Film4) should be shown every Christmas after the Queen’s speech. James Stewart, facing ruin, is saved from suicide by guardian angel Henry Travers and learns how dreadful his town would be without him.

From there to White Christmas (Monday 21 December C4, Wednesday 30 December Film4). Entertainers Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye strive to save their old army CO’s failing hotel and fall for Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Plus there’s Irving Berlin’s immortal song White Christmas, without which no yuletide would be complete.

Now for films making telly debuts. Kenneth Branagh’s live action Cinderella (from Saturday 19 December Sky Premiere/ Sky Store/Now TV), with Lily James as our heroine, is nicely traditional, well played and good to look at. Cate Blanchett is a terrific wicked stepmum. One for the whole family.

As is Brave (Christmas Day BBC1), Pixar’s animated Scottish fantasy about the remarkable – and dangerous – things that happen when Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), tomboyish daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) falls out with her mother (Emma Thompson).

Behind the Candelabra (Bank Holiday Monday 28 December BBC2), a made-for-TV film by Steven Soderbergh that received a cinema release here, tells of the love affair between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). It’s funny, affectionate and, presumably, accurate, with fine performances by the two stars, especially Douglas.

To keep the little ones happy there’s Pinocchio (Sunday 20 December C5), the story of the wooden puppet who wants to be a boy and whose nose grows longer every time he tells a lie. And for adults a golden oldie – The African Queen (Sunday 27 December, New Year’s Eve More4), a First World War adventure story set in Africa. Humphrey Bogart, a rough and ready tramp steamer captain, and missionary Katharine Hepburn take on a German gunboat. One you should really see.

So is Carol Reed’s The Third Man (Tuesday 22 December BBC4) – mystery and villainy in post-war Vienna, featuring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and Trevor Howard. Marvellously atmospheric with great zither music by Anton Karas. One of the finest British films.

Meanwhile Skyfall (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day ITV2) is surely the best Bond movie yet, largely because M (Judi Dench) moves from her office to centre stage. Daniel Craig impresses as the best 007 after Connery and Javier Bardem is a splendid villain.

Connery, of course, made the role his own in the first Bond film Dr No (Christmas Day, New Year’s Day ITV) in which 007, sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of another agent, encounters titular arch villain Joseph Wiseman, not to mention a bikini-clad Ursula Andress.

Thanks to Tom Stoppard’s screenplay, Shakespeare in Love (Tuesday 22 December C4) is a treat for those who cherish good dialogue. A mixture of high wit and low humour as Gwyneth Paltrow disguises herself as a boy to get close to the Bard (Joseph Fiennes) and land a part in his new play.

After the death of Princess Diana, while the nation rends its garments, The Queen (Tuesday 29 December ITV) – an Oscar-winning Helen Mirren – is made of sterner stuff. The grieving public doesn’t understand. HM is in danger of becoming unpopular until Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) –wouldn’t you know it? – steps in.

Enjoy. Happy Christmas.