Christmas Eve: Films of the day

FILM-a-holic Andrew Clarke takes a wander through the telly listings, looking for some tasty treats among the film offerings and wonders why they save up so many gems for a period when we are generally so busy.

Christmas serves up an embarrassment of riches when it comes to movie treats on the telly. Classics which are not seen for years suddenly sprout all over the schedules while contemporary widescreen classics have a habit of making their small screen debuts at this time of year. The result can be a film viewer nightmare full of clashing start times, conflicting family demands and presents that need unwrapping.

So what follows is a guide to the essential movies which need to be viewed live or recorded for later enjoyment.

Also there a few warnings included for the unwary. With time being at a premium you don’t want to waste precious hours on a film that has nothing to commend it except a large promotional budget.

Christmas Eve

You may also want to watch:

- The Queen; ITV1, 3pm

A genuine modern classic, relating the events surrounding the untimely death of Princess Diana. Stunning performances from Michael Sheen as the new Prime Minister Tony Blair and Helen Mirren as Her Majesty give the film its dramatic focus, while inter-cut news footage brings back the emotion of these very recent events.

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A very perceptive script from Peter Morgan, strips away the public face of the tragedy to reveal, the clash between tradition and the modern world.

It’s gripping, fascinating stuff delivered in an unsentimental fashion by top director Stephen Frears. British film-making doesn’t get any better than this.

- She Wore Yellow Ribbon; BBC2, 1.05pm

The second all-time classic of the day. It’s not particularly seasonal but its the perfect film to lose yourself in if you feel that Christmas is getting a little bit too much all ready. It’s one of John Wayne’s and John Ford’s perfect collaborations and form the central segment of Ford’s cavalry trilogy. Made in 1949 when Wayne was a young man, The Duke delivers a pitch perfect portrayal of a cavalry commander worn down by years in the field.

The brilliance of his performance is revealed by the fact that you are aware that he is looking forward to retirement while at the same time fearing it.

The film one an Oscar for its colour cinematography which includes an atmospheric shot of Wayne’s cavalry troop walking through the picturesque Monument Valley during a violent thunderstorm.

It’s the perfect film to show anyone who doesn’t believe that John Wayne could act.

- Cars; BBC1, 3.05pm

Another colourful, imaginative family gem from animation kings Pixar. If it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Toy Story, Finding Nemo or Monsters Inc then that’s only because they have created a very high standard to maintain. Also this is also more of a film created for children rather than the family as a whole. It’s fast, painted in almost day-glo colours, features Paul Newman giving his final performance as Doc and tells the tale of a young race car who wants to find glory in the big leagues but has to discover a little humility first. A moral tale with some nice performances but the script needs some extra bite for adults to really get something from it.

- The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian; BBC1, 5.15pm

The climatic battle at the end of this second instalment in the epic Narnia saga may come across as being a re-run of the siege of Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings but it still makes for some extremely exciting viewing.

Ben Barnes as the eponymous Prince steals the limelight away from Liam Neeson’s Aslan the lion as the Pevensie children head back to their magical kingdom to restore peace and order as some evil nobles try to wrest the throne from its rightful monarchs.

The fantastic Tilda Swinton has just an extended cameo this time as the Ice Queen but makes every second count. It’s a real rip-roaring adventure which keep the whole family entertained.

- Nanny McPhee; ITV2, 7pm

Emma Thompson’s brilliant adaptation of the children’s classic.

It tells the tale of a group of wilful children to get through dozens of nannies after their mother dies until Nanny McPhee comes not only to tame them but heal their emotional wounds.

Dark and unsentimentally lovely in turns, this is an absolutely gem of a movie.

It features not only a star turn from Thompson but also terrific supporting performances from (deep breath) Colin Firth. Kelly Macdonald, Derek Jacobi, Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Thomas Sangster and Angela Lansbury. Despite the magical qualities displayed in the film, the heart and soul of the movie is closer to Roald Dahl than Harry Potter. Excellent.

- Chocolat; Film4, 9pm

Juliette Binoche blows in to a small French community on the north wind and immediately sets about free-ing the spirit of its citizens.

Aided by the redoubtably grumpy Judi Dench, she challenges the dictatorial authority wielded by the Mayor, played with weaselly smarminess by Alfred Molina.

Chocolate unlocks the joyfulness in people’s souls. When a band of gypsies, led by Johnny Depp, she befriends them as the town council seek to send them packing.

After Juliette rescues farmer’s wife Lena Olin from an abusive relationship, the north wind blows again and she decides she must move on but discovers that perhaps her relationship with her daughter needs attention.

A beautifully acted, wonderfully observed story of friendship, family and the importance of community life.

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