The best things on TV this Christmas
'Tis the season to ignore your loved ones and whack on the telly. From David Tennant circumnavigating the world to the new series of Emily in Paris, here's what's worth watching.
A Boy Called Christmas, Sky Cinema and Now TV
Father Christmas gets a fleshed-out origin story in this new festive film from the makers of Paddington, streaming now. Narrated by Maggie Smith, the big budget flick follows a young Nikolas’ quest to find the fabled kingdom of elves. Along the way he picks up a red bobble hat, talking mouse (voiced by Stephen Merchant) and a flying reindeer… but we’re sure that’s just a phase.
Last Train to Christmas, Sky Cinema and Now TV, 18 Dec
Er, Michael, what is on your head? This festive offering from Sky sees Legolas — sorry, Michael Sheen — take on the role of 80s nightclub boss Tony, en-route home for Christmas, who discovers that he can move back and forth in his life when walking up and down the train. Think A Christmas Carol meets, say, National Rail.
The Royal Variety Performance 2021, ITV, 19 Dec
It’s the 109th Royal Variety Performance, and the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary, this year hosted by Alan Carr. Stars booked in include Ed Sheeran, Rod Stewart, Anne-Marie, and James Blunt.
Emily in Paris, Netflix, 23 Dec
It took the internet by storm, it enraged the French, it has a wardrobe department on steroids — and it’s back for series 2. Whether you’re team j’adore or j’abhor, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid Emily in Paris this Christmas. The series follows the aftermath of Emily sleeping with the indescribably sexy Gabriel, who happens to be dating one of her friends. Ooh la la.
Hansel & Gretel: After Ever After, Sky Max and Now TV, 23 Dec
Somewhere under all that witch makeup is Sheridan Smith, would you believe it? And wait until you see what they’ve done to David Walliams… He’s the one behind this festive retelling of the classic fairy tale, following last year’s Cinderella success.
Ghosts, BBC1, 23 Dec
This hit sitcom introduced us to a couple living in an old house that happens to be packed full of disgruntled ghosts. National treasure Jennifer Saunders stars in its seasonal special, wherein a man is found living in the gardens. Could it be…Father Christmas?!
Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas, BBC1, 24 Dec
We won’t hear a bad word said against Shaun the Sheep; it’s comedy gold. In this special from Aardman Animation, Shaun’s attempt to steal some stockings goes awry when little Timmy goes missing.
Don’t Look Up, Netflix, 24 Dec
We can’t even imagine how much was spent on the casting of this film. Roll call, please! Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, and Ariana Grande. Phewph. And the plot? As a comet hurtles towards Earth, DiCaprio and Lawrence are trying to warn a world that doesn’t want to hear about it. It’s funnier than it sounds.
The Mezzotint, BBC2, 24 Dec
Mark Gatiss knows how to write a spooky story (remember last year’s Dracula?) and his latest is an adaptation of a ghostly tale by MR James is no exception. A university lecturer receives an engraving of an unknown country house in 1922 and creepy things ensue.
The Larkins, ITV, 25 Dec
Have yourself a bucolic little Christmas with this 90 minute Christmas special from ITV’s Darling Buds of May reboot, The Larkins. Eldest child Mariette and her love interest return to the village to celebrate the season, though a spate of burglaries and a festive power cut keep things (mildly) spicy.
Call The Midwife, BBC1, 25 Dec
It would hardly be Christmas without an appearance from the nuns of Nonnatus House, right? For its tenth festive special, Call The Midwife is all wedding bells (as well as, presumably, jingle bells) with the marriage of Lucille and Cyril, though there will be plenty of births too. Plus, Miriam Margolyes returns as Mother Mildred.
Superworm, BBC1, 25 Dec
Superworm is the latest charming animation of a Julia Donaldson book (of The Gruffalo fame) to grace our screens on Christmas Day. The always fantastic Olivia Coleman narrates as an earthworm is kidnapped by a lizard. One to stick the kids in front of while you peel the spuds, sure, but with enough genuine charm to entice the whole family.
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1, 25 Dec
What better way to digest an ungodly quantity of food than lying on the sofa, watching others do energetic exercise? This one-off Strictly Come Dancing special will see Adrian Chiles, broadcaster Moira Stuart, singer Anne-Marie, TV presenter Mel Giedroyc, furniture restorer Jay Blades (The Repair Shop) and First Dates maître d’ Fred Sirieix take to the ballroom floor. Keeeeeep…passing me the Quality Streets!
Terry Pratchett’s The Abominable Snowbaby, C4, 25 Dec
Another heart-warming family cartoon for the post-dinner dip. This one takes a story from beloved writer Terry Pratchett and sprinkles in the voices of Julie Walters, Hugh Dancy and David Harewood. A frankly adorable baby abominable snowman winds up in a quaint English village, and hijinks follow.
Death In Paradise, BBC1, 26 Dec
It’s Christmas in the tropics as Death In Paradise bags its first festive special. Neville’s plans to return home for the season are scarpered when a billionaire shipping magnate dies. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
Around the World in 80 Days, BBC1, 26 Dec
David Tennant stars as Phileas Fogg in this retelling of the classic Jules Verne book. Though promising a fun historical romp, the eight-part series (which starts with a Boxing Day double bill) won’t shy away from the unsightly realities of the British Empire. It also adds the character of Daily Telegraph reporter Abigail ‘Fix’ Fortescue as one of Fogg’s companions — a nod to Nellie Bly, an American journalist who really did circumnavigate the globe in a rather sharp 72 days. Take that, Fogg!
A Very British Scandal, BBC1, 26-28 Dec
Now here’s something to sink your teeth into. Paul Bettany and Claire Foy play the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, whose 1963 divorce has gone down in history as one of the most notorious (and savage) legal cases of the 20th century. Expect raunchy leaked Polaroids, forged letters, and a hefty hit of violence.
NEW YEAR’S DAY
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts, Sky and Now TV, 1 Jan
We had the weepy Friends reunion, now it’s time for the cast of Harry Potter to take a stroll down memory lane. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint will be joined by a whole host of other co-stars (too many to list, seeing as you’re hard-pressed to find a British actor that wasn’t in these films) in sharing inside stories. It’s all in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the first film.
Doctor Who, BBC1, 1 Jan
It’s a dalek time warp with this Groundhog Day-esque Doctor Who New Year’s special. Aisling Bea (This Way Up) joins Jodie Whittaker and crew as they get stuck in a never-ending time loop, featuring plenty of extermination threats and a soupcon of romance. It’s what hangovers were made for…