Recommended films on TV


The Dardenne Brothers are known for their meticulous social realism and concern for the poor and dispossessed. In The Unknown Girl (2016), they marry those virtues with something approaching a mystery plot. 

In a small town in French-speaking Belgium, Jenny is a young doctor, working late one night, who decides not to open the door of her surgery after hours. The police later come to her and show her a picture of the person who was trying to get in: a young African woman who was later found dead. Stricken with guilt, Jenny makes it her mission to find out anything she can about the woman, who was found with no identifying documents. This takes her on a difficult and dangerous path. In the meantime, she carries on working, to the edge of exhaustion.

As Jenny, Adèle Haenel gives us a central performance of immense subtlety and power, and the film achieves its effects through simple, unflashy camerawork and the absence of a musical score. The result is intriguing and quietly moving. The Unknown Girl is on BBC2 on Sunday (13/12) at 00:55 and subsequently on iPlayer. 

World Cinema

On Saturday (12/12) at 23:10, Film4 has The Witch Part 1 – The Subversion (2018), a South Korean action thriller that is said to be the first part of a trilogy that has never appeared. A young girl suffering from amnesia is determined to find out what happened to her during the period she can’t remember. 

On Tuesday (14/12) at 01:40 Film4 brings us the remarkable Clash (2016), which takes place entirely inside a police van that has rounded up participants in the demonstrations for and against Egypt’s President Morsi. Shown by CFS in 2017/18. 

On Wednesday (16/12) at 01:05, Channel 4 has Shoplifters (2018), which CFS showed in 2019/20. One of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s most acclaimed films, it tells the story of a family of petty criminals who take in an apparently abandoned child and set her to work. Not everything is as it seems, however. 

Stephen Ilott’s picks

On Saturday (12/12) at 21: 00, Stephen has picked The Untouchables (1987) on BBC2, bringing together Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro in the well-known Eliot Ness v Al Capone story. At 22:40 the same day, on Channel 5, there is the thriller Cape Fear (1991), with De Niro once again, this time teamed with Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis. On Sunday (13/12) at 22:10, BBC2 has The Godfather (1971), which needs no introduction. On Wednesday (16/12) at 23:05 on Film4, Stephen has chosen Prisoners (2013), in which Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) goes to extreme lengths to recover his abducted daughter. Finally, on Friday (18/12) at 00:30 on BBC2, Stephen has picked An Education (2008), a coming of age story about the formative years of the celebrated journalist Lynn Barber. Starring Carey Mulligan. 

Other modern films of interest

On Saturday (12/12) at 21:00, Sony Movies has The Good Shepherd (2006), about the early years of the CIA, directed by Robert De Niro and starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie as well as the director. At 21:30 the same day, Channel 4 brings us The Shape of Water (2017), Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy in which lonely Sally Hawkins falls in love with an aquatic creature. Winner of Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. 

Sunday (13/12) at 21:00, BBC1 brings us Education (2020), the latest in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series on black British life.

Three notable films on Monday (14/12). At 02:00, BBC4 has My Week With Marilyn (2011), dramatising the tensions between Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during the making The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). At 21:00, Film4 has The Terminal (2004), starring Tom Hanks, in which an Eastern European tourist finds himself taking temporary residence in Kennedy Airport. At the same time, BBC4 has The Lady in the Van, telling the delightful true story of playwright Alan Bennett’s troubles with an eccentric old lady who parked her caravan in his drive. 

On Tuesday (15/12) at 00:30, BBC2 has Viceroy’s House (2017), an account of Earl Mountbatten’s difficulties in preparing India for independence, not to mention his domestic troubles. 

On Wednesday (16/12) at 00:30, BBC2 has Their Finest (2016), a comedy-romance starring Gemma Arterton as a secretary who is hired to join the crew of a film being shot during the Blitz. Later, at 21:00, BBC2 has The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth at King George VI, overcoming an incapacitating stammer. 

On Thursday (17/12) at  00:35, BBC2 brings us The Duchess (2008), with Keira Knightley as the controversial 18th century socialite Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. 

On Friday (18/12) at 19:15, Sony Movies has Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), a comedy romance set against the backdrop of the New York “queercore” music scene.  


Four notable oldies on Saturday (12/12). At 14:00, BBC2 has the Tommy Steele cockney musical Half a Sixpence (1967). Then on Film4 at 15:25 there is Christmas favourite It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). At 18.00,  Talking Pictures has The Enforcer (1951), an adventure with Humphrey Bogart. Nothing to do with Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movie of 1976. Finally for Saturday, at 22:55, BBC2 has The Hill (1965), a Sidney Lumet drama set in a British disciplinary camp in the Libyan desert. 

Three more oldies on Sunday (13/12). At 10:00, 5 Select has They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), a British noir about a framed man. At 11:00, Talking Pictures has Brothers in Law (1956), a legal comedy with a top cast led by Richard Attenborough, Terry-Thomas and Ian Carmichael. Finally for Sunday, at 12:05 5 Select has Spare the Rod (1961), a drama starring Max Bygraves (yes, that Max Bygraves) as a teacher in a tough school. 

On Monday (14/12) at 14:30, BBC2 has Scott of the Antarctic (1948), with John Mills in the title role and music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. 

On Tuesday (15/12) at 13:45, BBC2 has Nicholas Ray’s biblical epic King of Kings (1961). 

Finally for this week, on Wednesday (16/12) at 14:50, BBC2 has Holiday Affair (1949), a love-triangle romcom with Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Wendell Corey. 

All the BBC’s films except King of Kings will be available on iPlayer shortly after screening. 

Stephen Ilott and John Morrish