Thursday 12 December
BBC One/ITV/Channel 4, all 9.55pm
Whoever’s ushered into Downing Street tomorrow, this evening marks the end of an era. Huw Edwards replaces David Dimbleby as presenter of the BBC’s election-night coverage after 40 years, and those are big shoes to fill. For his debut on BBC One’s Election 2019, Edwards has the comfort of knowing he’ll be aided by BBC stalwarts Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler, among others.
Although the BBC tends to win in the ratings, ITV puts up a good show with Tom Bradby hosting Election 2019 Live: The Results. The line-up is subject to change, but former Chancellor George Osborne and ex-Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls joined Bradby last time for biting commentary, so hopes are pretty high.
Finally, for a more irreverent approach to choosing a government, Channel 4 has Alternative Election Night: Krishnan Guru-Murthy and comedian Katherine Ryan look at polling day through a comic lens, with Clare Balding announcing the results. Their guests, including ex-Home Secretary Amber Rudd and former Labour MP Tom Watson, should help us to glean a few insider tidbits. There are plenty of entertaining options – fitting for an election less predictable than many. VP
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Starzplay, from today
Mindy Kaling – of The Office (American version) and The Mindy Project – has updated the 1994 Hugh Grant flick for a new era. The ten-part rom-com stars Game of Thrones’s Nathalie Emmanuel as Maya, a high-powered American in politics whose life is upended after meeting a British guy at Heathrow. But there are some very good reasons why she can’t date him… A strong multi-cultural cast is led well by Emmanuel, and there’s lots of snappy dialogue, but even with Richard Curtis onboard as executive producer, it doesn’t quite capture the charm of the original. VP
Rugby Union: The 138th Varsity Match
ITV4, 2.50pm (kick-off 3.00pm)
On Thursday, Twickenham plays host to one of the oldest rivalries in British – or any – sport, as Oxford defend their title from Cambridge.
Buy It Now for Christmas
Channel 4, 8.00pm
It may feature inventors pitching products to an audience and industry buyers, but it misses the edge and forensic detail of Dragons’ Den. The result is a flabby imitation better suited to daytime television, even if Rylan Clark-Neal brings a certain charm as host. VP
Discovering: Alan Rickman
Sky Arts, 8.00pm
This tribute to the late Alan Rickman will serve to remind us how much he’s missed. Rickman excelled in classical stage roles and triumphed as baddies in blockbusters like Die Hard, the Harry Potter movies and Love, Actually. Yet this biopic will also throw light on Rickman’s ability to send himself up and play the romantic hero, too. VP
Inside the Christmas Factory
BBC Two, 9.00pm; Wales, 8.55pm
An era in which every show gets a holiday spin-off means that Gregg Wallace is visiting a canapé factory to marvel at its Christmas output (200,000 morsels per day) while Cherry Healey learns of the benefits of using ice cubes when cooking your turkey. VP
I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! Coming Out
After the conclusion of Ant and Dec’s latest torture-chamber-cum-reality-show, we return to find out how the celebrities have been coping since they left. VP
Christmas at Chatsworth House
Channel 4, 9.00pm
This documentary was designed to showcase the tinsel-decked halls of Derbyshire’s most famous stately home, as its staff spruced it up for the usual seasonal influx of 200,000 visitors. Unfortunately, serious flooding in the area has seriously dampened seasonal spirit – causing a partial curtailment of the Christmas market. VP
Only the Brave (2017)★★★☆☆
This thriller about a crew combating wildfires in Arizona doesn’t peddle the melodrama of Ron Howard’s Backdraft – the last major film about firefighting – but it has solid merits and a truly committed cast. A 20-strong team led by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), who’s given a second chance to Brendan (Miles Teller), a recovering crack addict, heads out to fight a monster blaze. What it lacks in detail, it provides in rugged masculine emotion.
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) ★★★★☆
The title makes everyone think it was directed by Tim Burton, but it’s time Henry Selick got proper credit for his phantasmagorical yarn, in which skull-headed Jack Skellington, head honcho of Hallowe’en Town, kidnaps Santa and takes his place on Christmas Eve. It seethes with a spirited cast of ghosts, vampires and werewolves. Catherine O’Hara and Chris Sarandon lend their voices. Burton’s regular collaborator Danny Elfman provided the catchy songs. Children with macabre tastes will be enchanted, as will many of their parents.
I Give It A Year (2013) ★★★☆☆
BBC Two, 10.30pm; not N Ireland/Wales
This cheerfully abrasive British comedy (directed by Sacha Baron Cohen’s writing partner, Dan Mazer) offers a fresh twist on a tested format, starting with a happy ending and asking what comes next. Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall play two newly-weds whose first year of marriage is more testing than the whirlwind romance that preceded it. In support, there’s everyone from Olivia Colman to Minnie Driver.
Friday 13 December
BBC One/BBC Two/ITV/Channel 4, times vary
It’ll be no surprise to see the schedules packed with general-election results specials, and panels of bleary eyed-politicians and pundits discussing the ups, downs and shock results already in – and those to come. By the time most of us get out of bed, there should be – unless things are exceptionally tight – a fairly clear picture of the overall winners and losers, and whether the nation will face another hung parliament or a working majority and a leader preparing to visit the Queen.
For the details, Huw Edwards leads Election 2019, the BBC’s through-the-night coverage, until 9am, whereupon Emily Maitlis takes over the analysis and discussion until lunchtime; it continues on BBC Two from 2pm. ITV continue their overnight coverage with Good Morning Britain (6am), then Julie Etchingham takes the reins at 9.25am; Channel 4, meanwhile, offers an extended news bulletin at noon.
If that’s not enough for you, Fiona Bruce hosts Question Time Election Special: the Result on BBC One (8.30pm), then there’s some election-themed light relief in the form of both Have I Got News for You at 9.30pm and, over on Channel 4, a mirthful The Last Leg Election Special at 10pm. GO
Amazon Prime, from today
Saved when fans lobbied Amazon to pick it up after its cancellation by Syfy, the drama about space colonists fighting political conspiracy gets a new lease of life with a spectacular fourth season that sees the crew of the Rocinante drawn into a “blood-soaked gold rush” beyond the Ring Gate. GO
The Name of the Rose
BBC Two, 9.00pm
Rupert Everett’s sadistic inquisitor Bernard Gui is one of the better things about this adaptation of Umberto Eco’s medieval murder puzzler, which finally picks up pace in the closing episode as William (John Turturro) and Adso (Damian Hardung) race to unpick the mystery and stop Gui indulging his penchant for burning women alive. GO
Inside the World’s Greatest Hotels
Channel 5, 8.00pm
A new series exploring household-name hotels begins with Caesar’s Palace, which became Las Vegas’s first themed hotel in 1966 and has been synonymous with Sin City ever since. GO
I am Johnny Cash
Sky Arts, 9.00pm
“You could’ve put him in a roomful of Presidents and he would’ve stood out,” says one contributor in this fine portrait of country music’s most charismatic star, which features rare archive footage and interviews with family members and friends. GO
Country Music by Ken Burns
BBC Four, 9.30pm & 10.20pm
Tonight’s double bill charts the changing face of country music from the Seventies to the early Eighties via the careers of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams Jr. GO
The Graham Norton Show
BBC One, 10.40pm; N Ireland, 11.10pm
A starry sofa, even by Norton’s standards, sees Judi Dench and Jennifer Hudson chatting about their new adaptation of Cats. Beside them are Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey and Michael Bublé, while Coldplay perform their latest release. GO
Adam Hills: Take His Legs
Channel 4, 11.30pm
This is an affectionate and rather entertaining documentary about disability, well-being and sport, following the Last Leg host and founder of the UK’s first disability rugby league team, the Warrington Wolves, as they prepare for the biggest game of their lives in Sydney. GO
Glass (2019) ★★★☆☆
Sky Cinema Premiere, 8.00pm
M Night Shyamalan has completed a long-range trilogy, bringing together everyone from Unbreakable and Split for a kind of real-world-superhero showdown at an insane asylum. James McAvoy’s 23 competing personalities are still fun, but this film, which also features Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Willis, is in thrall to its creator’s goofiest and most leaden ideas about What Comics Really Mean.
22 Jump Street (2014) ★★★★☆
Channing Tatum’s charisma and some neat malapropisms make this sequel to 21 Jump Street even more hilarious than the first. Instead of infiltrating a high school to arrest the suppliers of a drug, Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) infiltrate a college to do… the same. Luckily, their chemistry is sublime, and infectious – directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller even manage to make Ice Cube seem a comic genius.
Marguerite (2015) ★★★☆☆
BBC Two, 11.15pm
Xavier Giannoli directs this elegant French take on the life of the grande dame of embarrassment, Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s 1921 and Catherine Frot, on César Prize-winning form, is the unmusical socialite whose song recitals become a fixture of the Parisian arts scene. Giannoli blends parallels with Stravinsky and Dada into the comedy; Denis Mpunga and Michel Fau are good value as her weary butler and vocal coach.
Saturday 14 December
Strictly Come Dancing: The Final
BBC One, 7.05pm
After 13 weeks of glitter, sensational choreography and fab-u-lous footwork, it’s the final. And after last week’s (fairly predictable) departure of comedian Chris Ramsey, we’re down to the last three. Each must perform the judges’ choice, their own favourite routine and a Showdance.
The bookies’ tip to lift the Glitterball is Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher (and his pro partner Oti Mabuse), who made an impact from the start after coming on as a last-minute substitute. They’ll dance their Rumba to Ain’t No Sunshine. CBBC presenter Karim Zeroual (with pro Amy Dowden) has more or less equalled Fletcher in terms of overall points scored, and wowed the judges just as often. Plus, Zeroual’s enthusiasm and high popularity with studio audiences could swing the popular vote. Don’t discount their Quickstep to Mr Pinstripe Suit. The dark horse, however, is EastEnders’s Emma Barton. Her flair might not match the others, but Strictly viewers love a grafter – and her partner Anton Du Beke has a loyal fanbase. Their Charleston to Thoroughly Modern Millie is the one to watch. It’s all to play for, with the result out of the hands of judges and down to who inspires most people to pick up the phone and vote. GO
Alpine Skiing: World Cup
Eurosport 1, 8.23am
The World Cup moves on this week, with a range of events. First, today, the men are in Val d’Isère, France, for the giant slalom, while the women are in St Moritz, Switzerland, for the super giant slalom (Eurosport 1, 9.33am). The men’s action continues in St Moritz tomorrow with the slalom (Eurosport 2, 8am). Next, on Tuesday, the women’s circuit heads to the French resort of Courchevel for a giant slalom event (Eurosport 1, 9.20am), and on Friday, the men arrive in northern Italy, for the super giant slalom in Val Gardena (Eurosport 1, 10.35am). Austrian Matthias Mayer leads the men’s standings, while the USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin is again the woman to beat.
Rugby Union: Leinster v Northampton Saints
Channel 4, 4.35pm (kick-off 5.15pm)
The Saints will hope that this won’t be groundhog day at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Having been beaten 43-16 at home last weekend in the sides’ first Champions Cup Pool A clash, Chris Boyd and his team will need to turn in an improved performance against an Irish side who are four-time European champions and last year’s runners-up. Leinster look in ominous form already, able to absorb pressure and to punish their rivals’ (many) mistakes. BT Sport hosts other matches over the course of the weekend.
BBC One, 5.30pm
Ahead of tomorrow’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards, Alexander Armstrong hosts a special edition featuring sporting luminaries that include Greg Rusedski, Rebecca Adlington, Jayne Torvill and Geraint Thomas. GO
Britain’s Wildest Weather 2019
Channel 4, 7.30pm
The year’s not over yet, but there’s no shortage of eye-popping footage here. We see the near-collapse of the Whaley Bridge dam, learn what it’s like to experience an avalanche in Snowdonia or be swept from your boat by a wave in the night. There’s also an analysis of what made 2019 so hot and wet. GO
Michael McIntyre’s Big Show
BBC One, 9.10pm
There are more “big stars, big laughs and big surprises” as singer Ellie Goulding hands over her phone for “Send to All”, tenor Andrea Bocelli sings and two Coventry brothers are “Unexpected Stars of the Show”. GO
Rod Stewart: Reel Stories
BBC Two, 9.10pm; Wales, 12.35am
Elton John has had lots of attention recently, so now it’s Rod Stewart’s turn. Dermot O’Leary kicks off an evening of repeats that take the rocker back to his childhood cinema in Muswell Hill for a delve through the archives – including footage from 1963, when the singer was just six months into his budding career. GO
Dial M for Middlesbrough
Following Murder on the Blackpool Express and Death on the Tyne, here’s another feature-length comedy outing for Johnny Vegas and Sian Gibson as Terry and Gemma, operators of Britain’s most murder-prone coach service. This time around, the unfortunate pair are stuck in a sleazy caravan park where a serial killer is on the loose. There’s a sizable cast of familiar faces: Sally Lindsay, Phil Davis, Jason Donovan, Annette Crosbie and John Macmillan are all relishing every nudge and wink of Jason Cook’s Carry On-style script. GO
Dido: Radio 2 in Concert
BBC Four, 12.05am
Fearne Cotton hosts this recording of Monday’s live session for Radio 2 by the multiple Brit and Ivor Novello Award-winner, whose No Angel remains the biggest-selling debut album by a female British artist. She’s giving one of her final performances of 2019 after a first tour in 15 years across North and South America and Europe this year. GO
Nativity! (2009) ★★★☆☆
BBC Two, 5.30pm; Wales, 4.30pm
Debbie Isitt’s efficient sob story is about a primary school cobbling together a nativity play. In reluctant charge is Martin Freeman as lovelorn Mr Maddens, a former am-dram star whose girlfriend (Ashley Jensen) dumped him at Christmas five years ago and moved to LA. The West End version, with Sharon Osbourne and Danny and Dani Dyer, has returned; Nativity 2 (weaker) airs on Sunday at 4.15pm.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) ★★★★☆
The first in the spin-off series of “Star Wars Stories” is set before the events of the original 1977 film. It follows rebel live-wire Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who leads a band of self-styled “spies, saboteurs and assassins” – Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed among them – on a mission to steal the Death Star plans from an Imperial stronghold, via breathtaking vistas and stunning set pieces. It also airs on Sunday at 10.15pm.
Logan (2017) ★★★★☆
Channel 4, 9.10pm
This is Hugh Jackman’s third – and best – lone outing as the whiskery, grumpy and metal-skeletoned mutant Wolverine. You might think that James Mangold’s film, set in the near future where an exhausted Logan meets a young mutant like himself, is no more than a sequel to the other Wolverine films – but before long it throws off the franchise’s shackles and shows proper invention. It’s like a paranoid, noirish Western – a real treat.
Sunday 15 December
Agatha & the Curse of Ishtar
Channel 5, 9.00pm
Recognising that it’s nearly impossible at this point to bring anything new to an Agatha Christie adaptation – unless of course, you’re Sarah Phelps – Channel 5 have sensibly decided to stick to recreating key moments in Christie’s own life and then throwing a bit of crime into the mix. It proves to be a surprisingly clever formula, falling somewhere between the stately David Suchet Poirots and the altogether darker fare offered by Phelps, and it’s aided by a sparkling script from Tom Dalton, who gets the balance between knowing one-liners and a Christie-esque plot exactly right.
It helps, too, that the central performances are so enjoyable. As Agatha, newly divorced and searching for purpose, Lyndsey Marshal is the perfect mixture of curiosity, passion and restraint while World on Fire’s Jonah Hauer-King is equally well cast as Max Mallowan, the younger man who would become the author’s second husband. The enjoyable (if not exactly innovative) plot sees Christie heading east to Iraq where she encounters Mallowan soon after he’s been shot. Before long the pair have joined forces to investigate a murky but gripping tale of dead monkeys and stolen artefacts. SH
Snooker: Scottish Open
Eurosport 1, 12.45pm/Quest, 6.45pm
With the excitement of the UK Championship over, and Ding Junhui having secured his first British title in a decade, attention has turned to Glasgow, where a strong home field entered this year’s premier Scottish event. Mark Allen triumphed here in 2018.
Premier League Football: Arsenal v Manchester City
Sky Sports Main Event/Premier League, 4.00pm (kick-off 4.30pm)
These two heavyweight sides are both ailing. Pep Guardiola’s Sky Blues are in third, 14 points off runaway leaders Liverpool, while Arsenal are in ninth and helmed by temporary coach Freddie Ljungberg in the aftermath of Unai Emery’s departure. A loss for either side could be a fatal blow to their season. Earlier, Manchester United welcome another side without a permanent manager, Everton, to Old Trafford (same channels, 1pm; kick-off 2pm).
Sports Personality of the Year 2019
BBC One, 7.00pm
England’s cricketing hero Ben Stokes is the runaway favourite to win tonight’s top award, although footballer Raheem Stirling and sprinter Dina Asher-Smith may have a decent chance as well. Gabby Logan, Gary Lineker and Clare Balding present. SH
Scotland’s Scenic Railways
Channel 4, 7.00pm
Scotland is home to some of the most beautiful rail routes in the UK, so it’s no surprise to see a series focusing on them. This opener follows the steam service The Jacobite across the Glenfinnan Viaduct – also known as Harry Potter’s cinematic route to school. SH
Pavarotti: 10th Anniversary Gala
Sky Arts/NOW TV, 7.00pm
Here’s a welcome chance to re-watch this 2017 concert in Verona, held for the 10th anniversary of Luciano Pavarotti’s death. It’s presented by Catherine Bott, with star turns from the other two of the Three Tenors, Plácido Domingo and José Carreras; soprano Angela Gheorghiu and tenor Andrea Bocelli perform as well, as an emotional Italian crowd remembers one of their own. SH
The X Factor: The Band: Live Final
Simon Cowell’s reality television shows continue to limp on like elderly dinosaurs, staggering through the wreckage of a land they once ruled. This latest, offering one lucky band a dream contract, ends tonight. SH
His Dark Materials
BBC One, 9.00pm
Things turn even darker in the penultimate episode of the Philip Pullman adaptation, as Lyra (Dafne Keen) finds herself isolated and in need of all her cunning as she demands an audience with Iofur Raknison, the self-proclaimed king of the bears. All the while, devious Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) continues relentlessly to pursue her own path. SH
Northern Ballet’s Victoria
BBC Four, 11.00pm
Brilliantly choreographed by Cathy Marston, this interpretation of Queen Victoria’s life and loves presents her in a fresh, revealing light. Despite a sprawling story, which has to encompass all manner of topics and moods, from political intrigue to private passion, Marston never falters. She’s helped by a pair of pitch-perfect performances from Abigail Prudames as Victoria and Pippa Moore as her daughter Beatrice. Philip Feeney’s score is superb. SH
Elf (2003) ★★★★☆
Will Ferrell’s distinctive type of humour may not be to everyone’s taste – it has, on occasion, even been labelled “puerile” – but there are still plenty of giggles to be had from Jon Favreau’s sweet-natured Christmas comedy. Ferrell plays a human called Buddy who was brought up as an elf at the North Pole. When Buddy finds out about his true origins, he travels south on a mission to find his birth family in a rather elf-sceptical Manhattan.
Borg vs McEnroe (2017) ★★★★☆
BBC Two, 9.00pm; N Ireland, 10.30pm
Janus Metz Pedersen casts Sverrir Gudnason as ice-cool Björn Borg and Shia LaBeouf as hot-headed John McEnroe in the run-up to their storied clash in the 1980 Wimbledon final. The tennis sequences themselves are iffy – aren’t they always, on screen? – but the real meat here is in the backstories, a rich mélange of psychological turmoil and interpersonal conflict. Stellan Skarsgård, as Borg’s coach, is especially good.
Snowden (2016) ★★☆☆☆
Oliver Stone’s sexed-up portrait of Edward Snowden, CIA wunderkind turned NSA whistleblower, is the director’s 20th feature in a politically charged career that has ranged from Wall Street to Savages. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s creaky-floorboard baritone works well, feeding Snowden’s air of a man constantly wary that his every action is being monitored, but Stone clearly has his sympathies – there’s little room for us to disagree.
Monday 16 December
Sticks and Stones
From Doctor Foster to Trauma, no one else on television quite nails an escalating middle-class nightmare like Mike Bartlett. Sticks and Stones takes another fundamentally decent person and throws them way out of their depth. We join Reading sales associate Thomas Benson (Ken Nwosu) strutting into the office with a bulletproof beaming smile, ready to pitch for business to a big tech company, his crack team (Susannah Fielding, Sean Sagar, Ritu Arya) behind him and his expectant boss (Ben Miller) awaiting good results. When it all goes wrong and the recriminations begin, Thomas’s life is thrown into disarray as he begins to doubt his abilities, suspects his colleagues of sabotaging his work, while rumours swirl over financial troubles and his deaf daughter is bullied at school.
Although the plotting walks something of a tightrope between heightened and absurd (one or two plot twists border on pure farce), Bartlett slips in some acute observations about toxic work culture and the pressure of keeping up appearances. Nwosu, for his part, is excellent as a discombobulated everyman, and Fielding dials up the passive-aggression to great effect. Continues tomorrow and Wednesday. GT
Meet the Street at Christmas
BBC One, 9.15am
Choral director Mark De-Lisser spends five episodes this week in isolated parts of the country, attempting to bring sometimes distant neighbours together through music. He begins today in rural Wales, recruiting singers from local livestock farmers. GT
Great Film Composers: The Music of the Movies
Sky Arts/NOW TV, 8.00pm
This entertaining series reaches the pop era, with contemporary sounds infiltrating soundtracks by the likes of Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Monty Norman (the James Bond theme), while The Beatles blazed a trail for the new generation in A Hard Day’s Night. GT
A Berry Royal Christmas
BBC One, 8.30pm
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge join Mary Berry to visit charities around the country, spreading good cheer and helpful recipes among those who work through the Christmas period, before teaming up with Nadiya Hussain to craft a feast for the volunteers. GT
BBC Two, 9.00pm
Michelle Fairley, Tom Burke and Stephen Campbell Moore lead an excellent cast in this punishing but powerful one-off drama, written by actor Sean Buckley and telling the story of 12-year-old Ray (Billy Barratt), who’s on trial in an adult court for killing his mother’s partner. Based on real events, it relates the lead-up to the murder and then the trial itself. GT
Toy Empire: the British Force Behind Star Wars Toys
BBC Four, 9.00pm
Bestriding the lives of children in the mid-1980s, Star Wars toys were designed and created in the perhaps-unlikely environs of Coalville, Leicestershire. David Whiteley meets the people who made and marketed them, and those lucky enough to have clung on to collections now worth many thousands of pounds. The Galaxy Britain Built follows at 9.30pm, an overview of the importance of British studios and talent to the successful realisation of George Lucas’s vision and the many films that have followed since. GT
Cunk & Other Humans on 2019
BBC Two, 10.30pm
Diane Morgan’s ineffably dim but oddly incisive alter ego pulls apart the last tumultuous 12 months in five-minute chunks, which air at the same time throughout the week. GT
Hello, Dolly! (1969) ★★★☆☆
Sky Cinema Musical, 11.10am
This musical extravaganza, about a widowed New York matchmaker who makes designs on the wealthy Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), proved to be Gene Kelly’s final time in the director’s chair. Barbra Streisand’s performance as the brassy Dolly Levi didn’t hit the same heights as her role in Funny Girl, but the movie’s unabated feel-good factor makes it perfect for a wintry day on the sofa.
Brief Encounter (1945, b/w) ★★★★★
BBC Two, 3.00pm
Over 70 years on, David Lean’s masterpiece has lost none of its melancholic beauty. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are the pictures of reserved passion as Laura and Alec, two married commuters who meet at a railway station and fall in love. Both heartbreaking and dreamlike, it reminds you that well-deployed silence is more devastating than big lights or loud sounds.
Love & Friendship (2016) ★★★★☆
BBC Two, 11.20pm; not Wales
Whit Stillman’s adaptation of an early Jane Austen curio, her long-unpublished epistolary novel Lady Susan, opens out the adulterous games of Austen’s smart and surprisingly risqué text, and elaborates on them with impish, often breathlessly funny verve. Kate Beckinsale springs back to form with a deliciously controlled performance. Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel and Stephen Fry are all good in support.
Tuesday 17 December
The Brexit Storm Continues: Laura Kuenssberg’s Inside Story
BBC Two, 9.00pm
With the general election over, the focus of current-affairs coverage returns to Brexit and the impact it has had – and, in all probability, will continue to have – on the political landscape in Britain. This documentary focuses on the tumultuous months since Boris Johnson took over as Prime Minister – hard to believe that it was only 20 weeks ago – in the wake of Theresa May’s resignation.
Taking us behind the scenes, cameras follow the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg as she observes, absorbs and reports on the dramatic political twists and turns as they occurred: the row over the proroguing of Parliament, the fraught negotiations with the EU over a new withdrawal agreement, the frantic political machinations on every side that led eventually to the general election – and reflections on how it all contributed to getting us to where we are now. It’s an incisive and detailed film, boasting particularly good access to Johnson and his then-cabinet, with MPs from all sides of the Brexit argument appearing to speak candidly about the strategies they pursued and the pressures they faced from a divided and often disillusioned but vociferous electorate. GO
London International Horse Show
BBC Red Button, from 7.40pm
There are several dressage events this week at London Olympia, airing each day from Tuesday via the Red Button. Charlotte Dujardin will ride Mount St John Freestyle; the pairing could win her a fourth Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.
MasterChef: The Professionals
BBC Two, 8.00pm
Three shows this week culminate in Thursday’s final; in the first, the four remaining contestants cook a meal for some of the nation’s best chefs, under the watchful eyes of judges Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti. GO
The Supervet at Christmas
Channel 4, 8.00pm
A heart-warming edition follows Noel Fitzpatrick as he gives three pet dogs – a Shih Tzu with spinal damage, an injured French bulldog puppy and a three-legged German Shepherd with hip dysplasia – a chance at living a better life. GO
Gregg Wallace’s Magical Christmas Market
Channel 5, 9.00pm
The MasterChef host embarks on a one-off tour of Europe – beginning in the capital of Christmas markets, Vienna – to learn how hand-made decorations and cheap mulled wine became a key feature of the festive season build-up. GO
Charles I: Killing a King
BBC Four, 9.00pm
Earlier this summer, at the conclusion of the series Downfall of a King, we left England on the brink of civil war. Now we leap forward several years – leaving out all that gruesome internecine bloodletting – to Christmas 1648, exploring the political machinations that led up to Charles I’s momentous trial and execution in January the following year. It remains an extraordinary period in English history, even if the programme’s repetitive day-by-day format and focus on just a handful of people does make this opening episode drag somewhat. GO
Cats: The Musical
Sky Arts, 9.00pm
Ahead of the release of the new blockbuster film this month, Sky reminds us why Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, based on T S Eliot’s 1939 book of poems, was such a phenomenal hit in the first place, with this recording of the original West End stage version, recorded in 1998 at the New London Theatre on Drury Lane and starring Elaine Paige. GO
The Dirty War on the NHS
ITV, 10.45pm; STV, 11.05pm; UTV, 11.10pm
Any film by veteran investigative journalist John Pilger tends to be explosively political, which is perhaps why ITV saved his latest, in which he warns of the threats facing the NHS from beyond these shores and gives voice to those who say our right to free medical care is being eroded, until after the general election. GO
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) ★★★★☆
BBC Two, 3.10pm
Terry-Thomas is as splendid as ever in Ken Annakin’s cheery, award-winning comedy, set in the early days of air travel. A big reward is on offer to the winner of an air race from London to Paris; Terry-Thomas’s crafty Sir Percival Ware-Armitage is among the pilots that take to the skies. His rivals – all zany period stereotypes – include Gert Fröbe, Sarah Miles and Jean-Pierre Cassel.
Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957, b/w) ★★★★☆
Talking Pictures TV, 6.00pm
Before the thrills of The Guns of Navarone and the spills of Cape Fear, J Lee Thompson directed this modest tale of a calcified marriage in 1950s London. Tired Amy (Yvonne Mitchell) is variously locked in combat with stacks of washing-up, her eye-rolling husband (Anthony Quayle) and his alluring secretary (Sylvia Syms). Ted Willis’s nimble screenplay, however, smartly avoids picking sides.
A Most Violent Year (2014) ★★★★☆
BBC One, 11.55pm; Wales, 12.25pm; Scotland, 12.55pm
The third film by writer-director J C Chandor is a riveting, neck-prickling moral thriller set in New York in 1981, the deadliest 12 months in the city’s history. A couple (Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain) live out their own twisted version of the American Dream, but success is even scarier than failure. This is a nocturnal fantasy, ablaze with menace.
Wednesday 18 December
My Grandparents’ War: Carey Mulligan
Channel 4, 9.00pm
There’s no denying its similarity to the reliably moving Who Do You Think You Are? but this starry family history series has a poignancy all of its own, focusing on spellbinding stories from the Second World War. Tonight’s final episode is no exception, as actress Carey Mulligan returns to her Welsh roots and traces the career of her grandfather Denzil Booth, who died when she was just five. Booth’s wartime work was particularly onerous and far-flung. A naval officer, he specialised in the use of radar, responsible for pinpointing the exact position of enemy aircraft in order to stave off imminent attacks on vulnerable British troops.
This life-and-death skill took him aboard the HMS Indefatigable, sailing out to the Pacific and the fight against the Japanese and witnessing the first hit on a British ship by one of their kamikaze pilots. Mulligan is visibly affected when she meets veterans who fought alongside her grandfather and learns that he lost close friends in the attack. She’s equally keen, however, to understand loss from the other side, heading to Japan to learn about the suicidal kamikaze culture and the sacrifice made by the teenage pilots whose short lives it claimed. TD
Don’t F--- With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer
Netflix, from today
Filmmaker Mark Lewis is no stranger to disturbing subjects, having brought us documentaries about the Waco massacre and drug dealing on the Dark Web. In this new three-parter, he turns his attention to a particularly grisly crime, profiling chillingly narcissistic Canadian killer Luke Magnotta. At the programme’s heart is the thriller-like manhunt to catch Magnotta, who murdered and dismembered a Chinese student then posted a video of his crimes on the web. But it also takes us through Magnotta’s shocking history of using the internet to disseminate evidence of his cruelty. TD
Club World Cup Football: Liverpool v [???]
BBC Two, 5.15pm (kick-off 5.30pm)
In part two of a much-trailed fixture clash, having played Aston Villa in the League Cup quarter-final last night, Liverpool now face a semi-final in the Club World Cup in Doha.
Food Unwrapped: Cracking Christmas Guide
Channel 4, 8.00pm
Jimmy Doherty and the gang share festive time- and money-saving tips. They test novel turkey-cooking methods, show us a short-cut for the preparation of parsnips, and propose some cheaper alternatives to champagne. TD
BBC One, 9.00pm
The business buffoonery ends tonight, as the two remaining candidates duke it out to bag Lord Sugar’s investment by creating a brand for their company and pitching it to industry experts. Bookending the final, His Lordship looks back on this year’s boardroom antics in Why I Fired Them and chats to Tom Allen alongside the winner in You’re Hired. TD
The Baby Has Landed
BBC Two, 9.00pm
It’s time for the couples to take stock of their new arrivals as this absorbing series about the ups and downs of being a new parent comes to a close. With Craig away for work, Paul copes with the twins alone for the first time, while Helen and Nigel consider adding a sixth child to their brood. TD
Sticks and Stones
Mike Bartlett’s tense workplace drama reaches its climax tonight as Thomas (Ken Nwosu) finally comes clean to boss Chris Carter (Ben Miller) about his bullying by the team. Carter is sceptical, however, about Thomas’s claims. TD
Vic & Bob’s Big Night Out
BBC Four, 10.00pm
Tonight’s final episode sees old favourites, the folk duo Mulligan & O’Hare, return with their bewildering new album Caravan Park, while inventor Frank Roddam unveils a new walking boot – complete with handles. TD
Swallows and Amazons (1974) ★★★★☆
BBC Two, 3.00pm
This cosy adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s novel about two gangs of children messing about in boats in 1920s Cumbria is a quite wonderful throwback. The children are kind, the parents are loving, there’s no violence. It’s hard to imagine this film being made today – indeed, the 2016 remake felt the need to add Russian spies – but it’s charming and deftly worked. Ronald Fraser and Virginia McKenna star.
This is 40 (2012) ★★★★☆
Comedy Central, 9.00pm
Judd Apatow revisits two characters from his 2007 hit Knocked Up. Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) and Paul Rudd play a stressed-out Californian couple whose 40th birthdays bookend the film; Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters also play the children. It’s a perceptive comedy about the troubles of middle age, and one that guarantees laughs alongside its tart little observations on love and marital discord.
Hampstead (2017) ★★★☆☆
Send thanks to director Joel Hopkins for this utterly twee romcom, inspired by the true story of Harry Hallowes, a homeless man awarded the deed to a plot of land on the fringe of Hampstead Heath in 2007 after he’d squatted there for 20 years. Brendan Gleeson is Hallowes, and Diane Keaton is Emily, a (fictional) widow and north London resident who – quite implausibly, let’s be honest – falls for him and fights the powers who want him gone.
Thursday 19 December
Channel 4, 9.00pm
It’s impossible to watch this drama about the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal without thinking of Jed Mercurio’s furious medical drama Bodies. Like that fictional 2004 series, this devastating docudrama, written by Amanda Duke, is full of callous management officials who bark statements such as “I don’t care what you do, just get them out of here – we’ve got to reach trust targets”, while the CEO Martin Yeates (Alex Macqueen) talks up the hospital’s chance of winning foundation status while ignoring queries about patient care.
Yet a certain broadness of writing is inevitable, given the levels of horror that the Mid-Staffs crisis revealed in 2009. Stafford Hospital was reportedly a place where patients were regularly left sitting in soiled gowns and abandoned in corridors, where misdiagnosis was common and the mortality rate worryingly high. The Cure covers this ground largely through the eyes of Julie Bailey (Sian Brooke) whose 86-year-old mother Bella (Sue Johnston) was admitted to the hospital in 2007 with a treatable hernia condition but died there eight weeks later. Bailey went on to found the activist group Cure the NHS; a full public inquiry would eventually ensue. SH
Heston’s Marvellous Menu: Back To The Noughties
BBC Two, 9.00pm
In this entertaining trip back in time, Giles Coren challenges the food world’s “mad scientist” Heston Blumenthal to recreate the unusual tasting menu that he first introduced at the Fat Duck in 2001. The best moments come when the chef opens up both about the past and his unique take on cooking. SH
The Big Soap Quiz: Coronation Street v Emmerdale
The annual showdown between ITV’s two biggest soaps returns, and the pressure is on Coronation Street this year after the Emmerdale gang triumphed last Christmas. Jack P Shepherd (aka Dastardly David Platt) captains the Corrie team, while Emmerdale are led by resident nice guy Mark Charnock (aka Marlon Dingle). SH
Freddie Mercury: A Christmas Story
Channel 5, 9.00pm
Using the Queen singer’s love of Christmas as a slightly spurious peg, this surprisingly emotional film looks back over his life and features some interesting nuggets amid the more well-worn fare. SH
I Am Bruce Lee
Sky Arts/NOW TV, 9.00pm
Anyone hoping to redress the balance following Quentin Tarantino’s cartoonish depiction of martial arts star Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could do worse than watch Pete McCormack’s enjoyable documentary, featuring contributions from Lee’s wife Linda and daughter Shannon. SH
A League of Their Own’s Christmas Holiday
Sky One/NOW TV, 9.00pm
Freddie Flintoff, Jamie Redknapp and Romesh Ranganathan head to Austria for an especially raucous Christmas edition. The highlights include an interesting interpretation of traditional Tyrolean dancing. SH
I’ll Get This
BBC Two, 10.00pm
The entertainment show returns with a Christmas special which sees celebrities including Shirley Ballas and Gregg Wallace competing to find out who picks up the bill at the end of a series of festive games. SH
Sky Atlantic/NOW TV, 10.00pm
Tim Minchin’s road-trip drama has been a strange and surreal but darkly enjoyable ride. The final two episodes bring the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion as Lucky (Minchin) and Meg (Milly Alcock) face a parting of the ways. SH
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) ★★★☆☆
BBC Two, 3.00pm
This isn’t the divine 1952 version of Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners, but a so-so do-over. Thankfully, the cast raise it up: Colin Firth is at his brooding best as Jack, and Rupert Everett’s Algy is even slicker. Reese Witherspoon is a weak link, miscast as unsophisticated Cecily, but Judi Dench (as Lady Bracknell) lends some starchy class, and Frances O’Connor (as Gwendolen) is undeniably as sweet as pie.
First Blood (1982) ★★★★☆
Based on David Morrell’s novel, this is the first and best of the Rambo action franchise. And, compared with the sequels, this is genuinely sensitive, smart writing. Sylvester Stallone plays John Rambo, a maladjusted ex-Green Beret who, suffering flashbacks to the hell of Vietnam, embarks on a one-man war against a crooked small-town sheriff (Brian Dennehy). It’s pacy and raw, with a tormented hero and a moving climax.
Three Identical Strangers (2018) ★★★★☆
Channel 4, 10.00pm
Tim Wardle’s fascinating documentary tells of triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by different parents, then learned of each other at the age of 19. David Kellman, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland met in 1980, when Bobby arrived at university to find classmates greeting him as Eddy. The pair met, were interviewed, and soon were contacted by David too. A curious and tricky kind of fame ensued.
Friday 20 December
A Merry Tudor Christmas with Lucy Worsley
BBC Two, 9.00pm
After exploring the history of Christmas carols last week, Lucy Worsley’s second festive outing sees her back in the day job of hanging around royal palaces, principally Hampton Court and inevitably in Tudor costume, getting to grips with what the festive season would have looked like before Father Christmas, crackers and repeats of The Snowman. Neatly divided into 12 sections to represent each day of Christmas, it finds her disinterring such long-buried traditions as mummery (a deeply sinister precursor to trick or treaters), the solemnity of the Feast of Holy Innocents and the Lord of Misrule, an anarchic upender of social norms whose antics see even the ever-game Worsley outhammed.
Amid the engaging silliness there is some fascinating material that exposes anew the foibles and, in particular, the pragmatic largesse of Henry VIII, whose £7,000 outlay on his first Christmas as monarch was only £5,000 less than Henry VII’s annual provision for his household. After the gift-giving, feasting and festivities, the documentary bows out with Twelfth Night and a banquet boasting mead, sweets, an enormous fruit cake and chess pieces made from marzipan. GT
Netflix, from today
Henry Cavill sheds the Superman cape and picks up a sword in this gnarly new eight-part fantasy epic (a second series has already been commissioned) based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s bestselling novels. He plays Geralt of Rivia, a freebooting beast hunter and the eponymous “witcher” brought together with a sorceress (Anya Chalotra) and an orphan (Freya Allan) as they navigate a continent of dangerous monsters and warring races of elves, dwarves, gnomes and others. It’s a confident first series boasting an immersive universe and some superb action sequences. GT
Celebrity Flirty Dancing for Stand Up to Cancer
Channel 4, 8.00pm
Coleen Nolan, twice divorced, is insecure about her age and her looks, while Made in Chelsea’s Miles Nazaire has recently had his heart broken; both are looking for new partners, which is where Ashley Banjo and his “dance dates” come in – during which the two pairs are not allowed to speak to one another. Banjo dispatches Nolan to a manor house while Nazaire heads for London’s Rivoli Ballroom. GT
Coronation Street at Christmas
ITV, 8.30pm; STV, 9.30pm
Sue Johnston (who starred in the soap from 2012-2014) narrates this amiable ramble through Weatherfield’s ghosts of Christmas past, from 1960 to 2018; expect betrayals, births, deaths and singalongs recalled by the show’s stars including William Roache and Sue Nicholls. GT
Celebrity Gogglebox 2019
Channel 4, 9.00pm
A look back at the highlights from the celebrity specials, with contributors including Gyles Brandreth and Sheila Hancock, and Chris Eubank. GT
Ball and Boe: A Very Merry Christmas
As cheesy and hammy as a Boxing Day dinner, Alfie Boe and Michael Ball return for another night of festive larking about and full-throated singing, accompanied by Shirley Bassey, Luke Evans and Gregory Porter. GT
Country Music by Ken Burns
BBC Four, 9.30pm
This magisterial series ends its story in 1996, with country music once again firmly established in the mainstream courtesy of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire and the newly resurgent Johnny Cash. Then at 10.25pm, Trisha Yearwood presents Country Christmas, the Country Music Association’s annual event. GT
The Two Popes (2019) ★★☆☆☆
Netflix, from today
Jonathan Pryce (as the Pope) and Anthony Hopkins (as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) joust amusingly in this chamber piece – arriving on Netflix after a limited release in cinemas – about the 2013 handover of papal power, after the first resignation by a Bishop of Rome in 598 years. But today’s Catholic Church has moral grime to be cleaned, and not only is the chance missed, but the film as good as gets behind them in mutual exculpation.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947, b/w) ★★★★☆
BBC Two, 3.30pm
Be careful what you pray for. This gentle ecclesiastical romcom stars David Niven as Henry Brougham, a harried bishop obsessed with raising funds for a new cathedral. After he kneels down and begs for divine aid, an angel (Cary Grant) descends and begins to perform all manner of good works – but Henry didn’t foresee the spark between his wife (Loretta Young) and their guest. It’s charming, witty and innocent fun.
Bumblebee (2018) ★★★★☆
Sky Cinema Premiere/NOW TV, 8.00pm
Director Travis Knight takes the Transformers films and sidesteps into 1987; yes, it’s still a giant toy-advert, but there’s real artistry here. Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) is the teenage heroine for whom freedom from her mother (Pamela Adlon) and family rests on gaining a set of wheels. Enter a sweet robot from the planet Cybertron, followed by a mix of nostalgic reverie and the usual hectic action.
Vicki Power (VP), Gerard O’Donovan (GO), Gabriel Tate (GT), Sarah Hughes (SH), Toby Dantzic (TD)