Recommended films of the week 19/12/2020 to 25/12/2020


I note that Mark Kermode called Phantom Thread (2017) “a deftly spun yarn” when it was released, showing that puns are always in fashion. The rag-trade plot defies summary, but it involves a neurotic and controlling dress designer (Daniel Day-Lewis in his final role before retirement), his mysterious sister (Lesley Manville) and a young working-class immigrant (Vicky Krieps) who becomes his muse, lover, wife and near-nemesis. The film is notable as the first film shot in Britain by the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson, who made Let There Be Blood with Day-Lewis, and features a score by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame. Nominated for a whole raft of Oscars, it pinned down only the one, for Mark Bridges’s costume designs. Well, they could hardly give it to anybody else. Phantom Thread is on Wednesday (23/12) at 22:00 on BBC2. 

Stephen Ilott’s picks

In the absence of any notable World Cinema in the week leading up to Christmas, let’s move on to Stephen’s picks, which are as eclectic as usual. On Monday (21/12) on BBC2 at 10:50, and again on BBC4 on Thursday (Christmas Eve) at 19:45, he picks Viva Las Vegas (1963), notable for the onscreen chemistry between Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret. Presley plays a racing driver who is down on his luck in Las Vegas but is saved by the love of a good woman. With 10 strong song-and-dance numbers including the unforgettable title track. Not on iPlayer. On Tuesday (22/12) on ITV4 at 22:00, Stephen has picked The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the Scorsese/DiCaprio true story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, an amoral stockbroker. On Thursday (Christmas Eve) at 10:30, he goes to Talking Pictures for the classic Oliver Twist (1948), directed by David Lean and starring Alec Guinness as Fagin and Robert Newton as Bill Sykes. Oliver is played by John Howard Davies, who went on to produce Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Not many people know that. At 13:25 the same day, on BBC2, there is another evergreen, Meet Me in St Louis (1944), with Judy Garland. 

Modern films

Four notable films on Sunday (20/12). At 00:25, BBC1 has Notes on a Scandal (2006), based on Zoe Heller’s best-seller, with Judi Dench as a manipulative schoolteacher preying on a younger colleague. Good stuff. At 12:55, Film4 has the charming Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (2015) (also Wednesday 23/12 at 11:00). The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017), at 16:55 on Channel 4 (also on More 4 on Thursday, Christmas Eve, at 18.55), is an interesting biographical feature telling the story of Charles Dickens’s struggles to write A Christmas Carol against the background of a Victorian world that had no interest in the neglected festival. Dan Stevens plays Dickens, while Christopher Plummer plays Scrooge, one of the characters whom he conjures up. At 17:50, BBC2 has Catch Me If You Can (2002), Spielberg’s true-life con-man story with DiCaprio and Hanks. Finally for Sunday, at 21:30, BBC2 has The Death of Stalin (2017), Armando Ianucci’s scabrous fantasy about the demise of the Soviet strongman and its aftermath. Apparently based on a French graphic novel rather than any semblance of history. I laughed a lot. 

On Tuesday (22/12) at 02:20, Film4 has Slow West (2015), an odd Western with a Scotsman and an Irishman as protagonists. The same day at 22:40, BBC1 has Collateral (2004), a stylish modern noir with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. 

On Wednesday (23/12) at 15:40, BBC1 has Pixar’s Finding Dory (2016). As if we hadn’t all heard enough about fish.

Three films on Thursday (Christmas Eve). At 03:05, Channel 5 has the uncompromising Straight Outta Compton (2015), a feature recounting the rise and fall of rap ensemble N.W.A. At 09:00, BBC1 has the winning Kung Fu Panda (2008), and then at 12:35 it has another animated feature, Disney’s Polynesian fantasy Moana (2016).

The BBC is serving up three family-friendly features worth watching on Friday (Christmas Day), given that you won’t be having a big knees-up. At 15.10, BBC1 has Coco (2017), another Pixar effort, this time inspired by the jolly Mexican festival The Day of the Dead. At 22:10, BBC2 has La La Land (2016), the astonishingly successful and critically acclaimed modern musical. Finally for Christmas Day, there is Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), a slice of festive ham with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, all about the socialite singer who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Irresistible. That’s on BBC4 at 23:05. Not on iPlayer. 


Four watchable oldies on Saturday (19/12). At 15:45, Talking Pictures has Lord of the Flies (1963), idiosyncratically directed by the theatrical genius Peter Brook. At 16:20, Channel 5 has the classic Scrooge (1951) with Alastair Sim in the title role. Warning: it’s been colourised. It’s also showing on Wednesday 23/12 at 11:30. At 21:20, Channel 4 has Forrest Gump (1994). Also on 4seven on Monday 21/12 at 21:00. Life is like a box of Christmas chocolates. At 22:40, BBC2 wheels out Educating Rita (1983). Not on iPlayer.

On Sunday (20/12) at 14:45, BBC2 has the moving Shadowlands (1993), about the late marriage of C.S. Lewis and his American wife. Directed by Richard Attenborough, with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. Prepare to shed a tear.

On Monday (21/12) at 08:50, Sony Action brings us Franco Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967), with Taylor and Burton at their most passionate, on and off screen. 

On Tuesday (22/12) at 13:35, Channel 5 has Matilda (1996), Danny De Vito’s version of the beloved Roald Dahl book. 

Few surprises in the Christmas Day oldies. At 11:35, BBC2 has the timeless Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Then at 13:15, BBC2 has the cross-dressing comedy Some Like it Hot (1959). Monroe, Lemmon, Curtis, cross-dressing: what’s not to like? Finally for this week, at 18:00, Talking Pictures has El Cid (1961), with Charlton Heston in the title role as a medieval Spanish patriot battling the North African Moors. With glorious Sophia Loren, glorious Technirama and glorious action sequences. Epic.

All the BBC’s films will be available on iPlayer after broadcast, except where stated. 

We wish you an excellent Christmas, pandemic notwithstanding. 

John Morrish and Stephen Ilott