For connoisseurs of the bizarre, this is all your Christmas presents wrapped in one. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith take us to a snow lodge in Austria, 1977, where a frightfully middle-class British family is menaced by a local bogeyman, known as the Krampus. The Devil of Christmas re-creates the style and idiom of ITV’s creepy 1970s anthologies and has even been taped on creaky cameras from that era by veteran director Graeme Harper. Everyone employs preposterously arch delivery and there are bumps in the night and twists in the tale. Shortly after the start, someone hits a rewind button and we hear a running commentary, as if it were a DVD feature, from the programme’s fictional director, Dennis Fulcher. (It’s Derek Jacobi.) Sublime.
“I’m fed up with it. Nobody told me [growing old] was going to be like this,” grumbles Miriam Margolyes. Having explored retirement possibilities in India, she and three of the other original Marigold-trippers check out the retirement paradise that is Florida. Margolyes is as hilariously blunt as ever. She hates their “pretentious rabbit hutch” in a gated community, although the people are nice so she understands “why someone would live in a place like this when they’re hurtling towards death”. But none are keen on the exclusive retirement village in Palm Beach, where everyone has had plastic surgery and there’s an explosive argument with one belligerent resident. Next stop: Japan (9pm on Friday).
As Tony Marchant’s 2012 romantic drama opens, Helen McCrory is disrobing in a hotel room. There’s a knock on the door, though we don’t see her caller. Then we flashback to McCrory’s character, Julie, being driven to work by her husband. She’s a wedding manager at a country house hotel, and becomes very involved in the lives of her brides, even insisting upon witnessing the vows bit of the ceremony, when she sheds a little tear. But Julie’s life is complicated by a wedding guest, Aaron, who, as luck would have it, gets a job working with her at the very same hotel! Soon the pair are falling towards the inevitable — a forbidden, taboo-breaking relationship — because she’s 40 and he’s 21.
Wallliams has found his best friend so far: Hugh Bonneville. Downton’s Lord Grantham delivers a fabulously naughty impression of Lady Cora (in full drag and getting Elizabeth McGovern down to a tee). His Alan Sugar marries superb mimicry with some of the sharpest lines of the series as he sets his apprentices the most joyously ridiculous tasks. His dad-dancing had me on the floor laughing, as did his Aussie stress-reduction councillor, Guru Dave. David should pair up with Hugh full time.
This second helping of lightly warped fairy tales is even better than the first. It picks up at the sinister final scene from last night, where the wolf arrives as a babysitter. “It’s a giant wolf!” says the excited child at the door. “A giant hungry wolf,” the beast corrects him… then tells the children a hybrid Cinderella-Jack- and-the-Beanstalk story. It’s gorgeously animated but there’s still a proper Dahl edge of nastiness, as when Jack’s mother rages at his cow-for-bean deal.
The court case against Leonard Vole, who denies murdering his mistress, is in full swing now that ruthless barrister Sir Charles Carter (the great David Haig) has agreed to defend the accused. But timid solicitor Mr Mayhew (smashing Toby Jones) feels uneasy and senses he’s being followed around London. Then an urgent letter demands an assignation in one of the seediest parts of the East End. What he sees shocks him to the core. Sarah Phelps’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s story ends with a smattering of feminist and anti-war agitprop, and a big twist.
The irresistible, time-hopping melodrama begins to scratch at its protagonists’ psyches in more depth tonight, as we see how Randall’s race has shaped him — both in adulthood, as a successful businessman, and in childhood as the only black member of his white family. We also learn how a young Kevin’s frustrated desire for attention and praise paved the way for his future as an actor — a career that tonight takes him from LA to New York in a bid to be taken seriously. And, as a result of some shameless bunny-boiler online stalking, Kate accidentally gets herself entangled with her new boyfriend’s glamorous ex-wife.