The ten best films on TV this Christmas

Get ready to break out the popcorn as Andrea Mullaney picks the best features on the small screen over the festive period

Sullivan's Winter film poster

Alan Partridge:

Alpha Papa

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Steve Coogan successfully transfers his long-standing character – the appalling, vainglorious and strangely loveable DJ Alan Partridge – to film. Alan’s attempts to become the hero of a police siege at North Norfolk Digital Radio go horribly wrong.

Emma Thompson as PL Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks PIC: François Duhamel / ©Disney Enterprises, Inc

BBC2, 22 December, 11.05pm

Saving Mr Banks

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson could probably make reading a Terms & Conditions leaflet entertaining; here they enliven a slightly odd story about the creator of Mary Poppins. Hanks’ Walt Disney is determined to turn the magical nanny books into a fun family film (spoiler: he succeeds); Thompson’s PL Travers, haunted by her childhood, is determined to protect her original vision.

BBC2, 23 December, 8.30pm

Emma Thompson as PL Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks PIC: François Duhamel / ©Disney Enterprises, Inc

The Lady In The Van

Starring National Treasure™ Maggie Smith and based on diaries by That Nice Alan Bennett, how could this film fail to charm? But ranting in a manky coat and smelly hat, Smith is a far cry from the elegant Dowager Duchess. And Bennett has a sharp, political edge that flashes through all his work. Alex Jennings perfectly portrays both the writer’s genuine kindness and real frustration with the “lady”, Mary Shepherd, who camped out in the driveway of his home for 15 years.

BBC2, Christmas Eve, 9pm

On The Town

As the buzz around the forthcoming La La Land proves, there will always be a place for a truly exuberant Hollywood musical – and this is one of the best ever, a delightful froth of comedy, irresistible tunes and sheer heavenly dancing. Three energetic sailors, led by Gene Kelly, and some sassy gals extract every ounce of fun out of their 24 hours in New York (a wonderful town).

Channel 5, Christmas Day, 9.50am


So everyone with a child has seen this monster blockbuster at least 20 times and still wakes screaming in the night with Let It Go resounding in their ears. But here’s the thing: it was as big as it was because it ‘s actually really good, turning Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen into an empowering, endearing fable of sisterly solidarity. Plucky princess Anna is fine, but it’s moody anti-heroine Elsa, isolating herself in her ice fortress “safe space”, who really captured a generation’s imagination.

BBC1, Christmas Day, 3.10pm

Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his affecting performance (and dramatic physical transformation) as a good ol’ boy whose Aids diagnosis amid 1980s American health care’s laissez faire attitude to the disease leads him to smuggle medicines over the border.

Channel 5, Christmas Day, 10.30pm

Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks – as his current release Sully shows – is the go-to choice for regular guys staying calm in extreme situations. In this tense action movie, he’s Captain Richard Phillips, whose freight ship was stormed by armed pirates in the Gulf of Aden in 2009. Hanks picked up an Oscar nomination, as did Barkhad Abdi, a Somalian working as a limo driver and DJ who made a stunning debut as the pirates’ desperate leader.

STV, Boxing Day, 9pm


After a politically divisive year, this crowd-pleasing film which mixes an inspiring message with the feel-good fun of Britflicks like The Full Monty or Calendar Girls, could be just the thing. It’s the true tale of how young gays and lesbians in London raised cash to support miners during the 1984 strike. Ben Schnetzer is excellent as the campaign’s driven, charismatic leader Mark Ashton, who died sadly young but whose efforts helped lead to major social change, while Bill Nighy is gently heartbreaking as an older miner.

BBC2, Boxing Day, 10.30pm

Muppets Most Wanted

Though a song predicts that “the sequel is never as good”, this prison caper has some of the funniest moments the beloved variety show has ever produced. When movie tough guys Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo break into song as Siberian gulag prisoners auditioning for wrongly-imprisoned Kermit’s talent show (don’t ask), only as hard-to-please an audience as Statler & Waldorf could fail to laugh. Ricky Gervais’s silly villain and too many cameos aside, this is a riot.

BBC1, 28 December, 3.35pm

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Sick to death of every other film being about superheroes punching each other? I feel you. For future generations most will surely be the equivalent of those endless Westerns which Hollywood churned out in the 50s and 60s. But if you’ve still room for more super-action, this is one of the best recent offerings, with Chris Evans’ man-out-of-time Cap finding his innocent 1940s ideals clashing with the cynicism of modern politics as he uncovers a conspiracy. Robert Redford’s presence is a nod to the film’s inspiration, 70s thriller Three Days Of The Condor. Watch out for a very unexpected turn by Jenny Agutter.

BBC1, 30 December, 8.30pm