TV films recreate an old-fashioned Christmas


MOVIE CHOICE:If only we could get back to Christmas as it was. You remember. You’d rush downstairs and shake out your stocking to find half an orange, three pebbles and a rusty hatpin. Then the entire family would gather round the television to watch The Towering Inferno. We were poor, hungry and bored – but we were happy.

Actually, we weren’t that happy. We would have killed to savour access to the movie channels that stupid young people today enjoy. The attraction of the big Christmas Day movie declined when video arrived and, in the present era of satellite television and DVR, the notion seems unimaginably quaint.

Do you fancy seeing recent hits such as The Muppets or Hugo? They’re both on Sky Movies Family. Fork out for the box-office channels and you can see movies that have barely escaped from cinemas.

Let’s pretend we only have the terrestrial channels (with digital upgrade and geographical proximity to the United Kingdom). Come to think of it, your current correspondent will be in that very position. Can we rustle up an old-fashioned TV Christmas? With no difficulty.

Begin by enjoying The Muppet Christmas Carol(Channel 4, 11.00, Christmas Eve). The hugely enjoyable puppet adventure is the only adaptation of Dickens’s classic to compare with the gorgeous Alistair Sim version, Scrooge, from 1951 (RTÉ 1, 7.10, Christmas Day).

If you don’t believe me, then check out at least three further versions on terrestrial television over the Christmas period.

For old-school “big movie” family fun, gather round the Bakelite set and relish Steven Spielberg’s ET – The Extra-Terrestrial(RTÉ 2, 15.50, Christmas Eve) or classic Disney charm in the immortally anthropomorphic Lady and the Tramp(BBC 1, 17.05, Christmas Eve).

Children should, at this point, be locked up with the X-Box as they invariably tend to chatter and spoil family films for the adults.

Later on, in a vaguely seasonal entertainment, Will Ferrell will skate his way towards broad laughs in the hugely funny and hugely dumb Blades of Glory(RTE 2, 21.40, Christmas Eve).

New York, New York! It’s a wonderful town. If you don’t believe me then have a glance at Gene Kelly in Stanley Donen’s infectious musical On the Town(BBC2, noon, Christmas Day). The film is part of a season celebrating the centenary of the charming star’s birth. Also seek out the exuberant Singin’ in the Rain(BBC 2, 13.35, Christmas Day) and the gorgeous An American in Paris(BBC 2, 14.40, St Stephen’s Day).

There’s more top-flight animation with Pixar’s magnificent Up (RTÉ 1, 17.10, Christmas Day), a film that is as hilarious as it is heart-breaking.

If you really want to get into the Christmas spirit then what better than an unimaginably bleak Austrian film about a group of disturbed children whose malevolent behaviour points towards later atrocities by the Nazis? Come back. Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon(RTÉ 2, 1.20, Christmas Day) is among the very best films of the past 25 years.

Alternatively, slip into the BBC’s hugely welcome Charles Laughton season with a screening of the timeless 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame(BBC 2, 01.30, Christmas Day).

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a three-hour epic that allows you enough time to plough through an entire drum of Quality Street. Get up good and early for a trawl through the most successful film of all time. It’s Gone with the Wind(RTE 1, 07.35, St Stephen’s Day). Clark Gable will be out the door not giving a damn before the turkey rissoles have hit the frying pan.

More delightful fun from the Disney Empire can be savoured in the lovely musical fantasy Enchanted(BBC 1, 15.20, St Stephen’s Day). The versatile Amy Adams makes a smashing princess and the songs are worth warbling along with.

You can then turn nasty and savour a veritable cornucopia of war-film tropes in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds(RTÉ 2, 21.30, St Stephen’s Day).

All this and no Marilyn Monroe? A whole Christmas without Howard Hawks? Fear not. Hollywood’s most versatile director propels the late star through great gags and smashing songs in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes(RTÉ 1, 2.40, St Stephen’s Day).

See? It is possible to have a good Christmas with nothing more sophisticated than a sack of satsumas and an old-fashioned aerial. And we haven’t mentioned the brief Hitchcock season on BBC 2 or the full Lord of the Rings cycle on Channel 4.

Merry days.

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