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Christmas 2016: best TV on today, Boxing Day

It's time for another Christie at Christmas with The Witness for the Prosecution on BBC1 tonight, plus Outnumbered, Revolting Rhymes and The Entire Universe

Published: Monday, 26th December 2016 at 1:20 pm

The Witness for the Prosecution, 9pm, BBC1


Thwarted, down-at-heel solicitor Mr Mayhew (Toby Jones) touts for business in the grim cells of a London police station in 1923. He finds a young man, Leonard Vole, who’s loudly protesting his innocence after being charged with the murder of his wealthy society mistress, Emily French (Kim Cattrall). We glimpse the kinky nature of their relationship as Sarah Phelps’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s short story begins, as Emily pays Vole £5 to watch him bathe and to perform other, ahem, tasks. But Emily ends up dead, her head stoved in, on the carpet of her lovely home, discovered by her devoted maid Janet (Monica Dolan), who points the finger at Vole (Billy Howle). It’s a dour story of greed and wounded souls and, let’s be frank, it’s not going to make your Boxing Day turkey sandwiches go down easily. But it looks fabulous and the acting, particularly from luminous Andrea Riseborough as Vole’s showgirl wife, is top drawer.

Outnumbered, 10pm, BBC1

The sitcom that ruthlessly splinters any romantic notions you might have about parenting returns, ready to leave another fantasy on the floor in pieces: namely, that it gets easier once those mewling bairns become miniature adults.

While those same old problems remain, new ones arrive. Bigger kids – Ben (Daniel Roche) and Karen (Ramona Marquez) in particular have apparently aged ten years since we last saw them four years ago – mean frailer grandparents. This Boxing Day, the Brockmans are on a special mission for Grandad, with a Second World War theme and a live combat situation when the family all get stuck in their car together. But in a show where the adults have never had any of the answers, maybe now’s the time for those grown-up children to take charge?

Still Open All Hours, 8.30pm, BBC1

Oh 'eck, we return to Roy Clarke’s marshmallow-hearted sitcom and to the eternal tensions between stuffy Northern men and battleaxe Northern women. As Arkwright’s corner shop fills with Christmas tat, its clientele are agog at a new arrival, a man who supposedly possesses a remarkable power over the opposite sex. Granville (David Jason) fends off the attentions of that ruthless, snapping till and the Black Widow (Stephanie Cole), who’s being squired by an unfortunate swain (Geoffrey Whitehead). No wonder he looks worried when he hears the widow’s advice about the treatment of blokes: “They thrive better on less.” The thing about Still Open All Hours is you know exactly where you are with it; there are no surprises, just gentle little comedy bumps along the way, which presumably is why it’s such a huge success.

Gordon Buchanan: Elephant Family and Me, 8.30pm, BBC2

Gordon Buchanan receives close, unwanted elephant attention in the Kenyan bush. “Wendy! Stop! Don’t touch the camera!” shouts his companion. But Wendy is curious about this stranger as she snuffles around with her trunk. Buchanan has “adopted” a family of elephants including Wiva, Wendy’s calf. But Wendy knows little of being a mother; she was orphaned by poachers at just two days old. So Wiva, in a touching display of community care, is ushered by the other females. It’s not all sweetness, though. The sight of an elephant caught in a snare is pitiful — thankfully a brave vet is brought in.

The Entire Universe, 9.30pm, BBC2

Imagine Brian Cox in a dress, a sea shanty about the Higgs boson and Einstein riding a trike and you have the measure of this science pantomime. The brainchild of former Python Eric Idle, it’s a new outing for Rutland Weekend Television, and is as endearingly ramshackle as Britain’s smallest TV network was 40 years ago. That said, it erupts frequently and rather wonderfully into Broadway- style pizzazz — and you’ll learn about time and gravity along the way. It’s Think of a Number with tap shoes, mad as a sack of ferrets... and immensely entertaining.

Revolting Rhymes, 6.30pm, BBC1

A bold move, this. When you think of Roald Dahl’s world, it’s hard not to picture Quentin Blake’s feathery illustrations, but the animation here is altogether more solid and smooth. It’s beautifully done, but took me a few minutes to get used to. Children might have fewer preconceptions as they lose themselves in these fairy tales of the unexpected, each given a nasty, Dahl-ing twist. There’s a great voice cast. Dominic West gives his languid, gravy-boat voice to a wolf narrator, whose tale weaves together Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Three Little Pigs. There are sideswipes at banks, developers and – of course – stepmothers, delivered in waspish couplets with the kind of dark edge to them that fairy tales deserve.

Lego's Big Christmas, 8pm, C4

Do you ever wish you’d invented Lego? Not for the riches – although that would be nice – but for the simple, educational, imagination-firing brilliance of the idea. I still prefer the make-whatever-you-like boxes of bricks from yesteryear – today’s bespoke kits of X-Wings or Mindstorms do rather stretch parental budgets. 

Unbelievably, Lego teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 2001; now it’s the most profitable toymaker, and this blockumentary follows the race to open a London superstore in time for Christmas.

We also meet the superfans: the Belgian woman who tries to attend every store unveiling in the world, and the Sheffield man who’s bought a separate house to hold his ten-million-piece collection. Is that a brick too far?

West Side Stories: the Making of a Classic

West Side Story is 60 next year, and its plea for tolerance chimes as much as it did during the New York riots of the 50s. But as Strictly’s Bruno Tonioli and Suzy Klein discover, its creation produced stories as exhilarating and moving as the musical itself.

Venerated wordsmith Stephen Sondheim recalls his niggly relationship with genius composer Leonard Bernstein (“He was very fond of changing my lyrics”), but also tells of perfectionist choreographer Jerome Robbins altering Bernstein’s orchestration. Rehearsals were tense and rumble scenes ended in blood and breakages.


But such a risky proposition gave rise to a work of art, and a universal prayer. It’s an enthralling analysis.


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