Paul Whitington's top 20 movies and TV shows to watch this Christmas
What to watch each and every day this week
Your day-by-day guide to the festive season's essential viewing.
Many a 1970s child was traumatised by the sometimes gruesome plot of Richard Adams’ bestselling novel, but this new two-part animated adaptation handles the story sensitively. A group of rabbits begin the long search for a new home when their warren is destroyed by builders. With the voices of Sir Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton.
The Greatest Show That Never Was
RTÉ One, 6.30pm
Nothing says Christmas quite like a pantomime and in this brand new one, Digger from RTEjr’s Dig in Diner must pull out all the stops to put on a show for his friends, while the villainous Storm Karl is determined to put a stop to it. Recorded in front of a lively audience at the Tommy Leddy Theatre in Drogheda.
Béarín Beag Buí
This charming little film from Puca Puppets is aimed at younger children who might be finding it hard to sleep at this most exciting time of the year. Using rod, string and shadow puppets, Béirín Beag Buí invites children to embark on a magical journey of imagination and dreams that will hopefully lull them to sleep!
Young Offenders Christmas Special
Shown on the BBC tonight, and on RTÉ on Christmas Day, this festive edition of the popular comedy finds Conor and Jack up against it — as usual. It’s Christmas week, and the residents on the estate have joined forces to block an eviction order by the council for a month. But things get tricky when Mairéad falls ill.
Carols from the Castle
RTÉ One, 9.20pm
Mary Kennedy and guests should get you in the Christmas mood with an evening of music from the splendid surroundings of Dublin Castle. There’ll be performances from The Lost Brothers, Wyvern Lingo, Eurovision legend Johnny Logan and, of course, the RTÉ Orchestra.
Bridget & Eamon: The Musical Society
The sitcom based in the frayed world of 1980s Ireland is back for an eventful Christmas special. Bridget and Eamon’s telly’s on the blink, but that’s the least of their problems as paramilitaries hold up the neighbourhood at gunpoint, and the couple and their friends must act out popular TV shows to keep the IRA entertained — or else.
The Dead Room
The tradition of Christmas ghost stories dates back to Charles Dickens and beyond, and there’s a distinctly Dickensian feel to Mark Gatiss’s modern chiller set in a London radio station. It’s late at night, and the presenter of a long-running radio horror show is alone in the studio when he senses a strange presence. With Simon Callow.
Top of the Pops Christmas Special
Is Top of the Pops still a thing? When I was a lad it was a Christmas fixture, as dodgy DJs in offensive jumpers minced about while presenting badly mimed musical performances. This special probably won’t be much more tasteful, and includes performances Lennon Stella, Rita Ora, George Ezra, Liam Payne, Zara Larsson.
Another enchanting children’s story from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is brought to life by Magic Light Pictures in this festive animation. Zog the dragon is keen to impress his stern teacher at school by excelling at flying, fire-breathing and the terrorising of humans. It’s not going to well until he meets a sweet young princess.
Strictly Come Dancing
If you’re looking for Christmas glitz, Strictly is the place to find it. Six favourites from previous seasons return this evening to dance routines inspired by fairy tales. Ann Widdecombe, Michael Vaughan, Caroline Flack and Aston Merrygold will take to the floor, and Shirley Ballas and the judges will pick a winner.
The Great Christmas Bake Off
Channel 4, 8pm
Sandi Toksvig, Noel Fielding, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith are joined in the tent by four stars from previous series who’ll do battle for the title of Christmas Star Baker. Liam and Flo from the 2017 run, and Jane and Andrew from 2016 must hit the ground running as they prepare bakes and cakes inspired by the festive season.
Mrs Brown’s Boys
RTÉ One, 10pm
In the first of a two-part Christmas special, Agnes is persuaded to enter a Christmas decoration contest organised by Father Martin to raise money for the local football team, but becomes disastrously distracted by the arrival of a new ‘wifi assistant’.
St Stephen’s Day
The ABC Murders
How will this latest Poirot match up to the classic David Suchet series, one wonders? It will certainly be interesting to see how John Malkovich tackles the role of the fastidious Belgian detective, who is up against it in this three-part drama set in 1933, as a killer using the alias ‘ABC’ is traveling up and down Britain’s rail network killing people in a chillingly methodical way.
A Summer of Hurling
While this year’s Football Championship was all too predictable, the hurling was another matter entirely. This new series looks back at the some of the remarkable contests shown on The Sunday Game, beginning with that epic tussle between Dublin and Kilkenny at Parnell Park in May.
Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2018
Channel 4, 9pm
What is Kanye West’s passcode? What does EastEnders star Danny Dyer really think of David Cameron? These are some of the burning cultural questions Jimmy Carr will be putting to celebrity guests Richard Ayoade, Claudia Winkleman, Mo Gilligan, David Mitchell, Michelle Wolf and Noel Fielding in this festive quiz.
The Zoo Winter Special
RTÉ One, 6.20pm
Animals like the grey wolves and Humboldt penguins might have looked right at home in the blizzards that covered this country during the ‘Beast from the East’ storm, but they were still placed in danger by the freak weather that struck the country last March. The dedicated keepers at Dublin Zoo braved the snow and ice every day to make sure their beloved charges were safe.
Channel 4, 9pm
Comedian and author David Baddiel joins host Richard Ayoade on a high-speed mini-break in the magical Kingdom of Jordan, where they bob in the Dead Sea, wander the dunes of sprawling deserts, explore the ancient citadel in Amman, taste some of the best falafel in the world, and do some last-minute Christmas shopping.
Chester Beatty: The Honorary Irishman
RTÉ One, 6.30pm
The treasure trove of art and artefacts from across the globe that resides in a state-of-the-art museum in the grounds of Dublin Castle would not be with us were it not for one extraordinary man. Known as the ‘King of Copper’, New York-born mining magnate and philanthropist Chester Beatty settled in Ireland in 1950 after an unhappy spell in England, and ultimately bequeathed his remarkable cultural collection to us, the Irish people.
Take That and us
Believe it or not, it’s 30 years since Take That were founded, and in this documentary Gary Barlow and the boys look back on their extraordinary career. Fans from across Britain share their stories of how the band changed their lives, and Robbie Williams rejoins to help record an anniversary album.
Players of the Faithful
RTÉ One, 9.30pm
This nostalgic treat is sure to warm the heart of every single person in Offaly. In 1982, the unfancied county came up against a Kerry football team that were being described as the greatest of all time and seemed on their way to a record five All-Ireland Football titles in a row. But the Offaly men had other ideas, and in this documentary the players recall that legendary final.
The Penguins of Madagascar (2015) ★★★★
Everyone’s favourite characters from the Madagascar films get their own adventure, and Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private resort to their usual madness as they tackle grandiose super-villain Dave the Octopus. With Tom McGrath, John Malkovich.
The Lone Ranger (2013) ★★★
In Gore Verbinski’s rambling but surprisingly entertaining revisionist western, a lawyer-turned-gunman and a Comanche brave join forces to fight corruption in the old west. Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp star.
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) ★★★
Channel 4, 9pm
When the Bellas are disgraced after Fat Amy exposes her privates during a birthday concert for President Obama, they atone by trying to win the a cappella world championships.
Garage (2007) ★★★★★
RTÉ One, 11.55pm
Lenny Abrahamson and Mark O’Halloran’s small town drama stars Pat Shortt as Josie, a harmless misfit who becomes the town pariah on foot of an innocent misunderstanding.
Alice in Wonderland (2010) ★★★★★
Tim Burton’s magnificent evocation of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy world stars Mia Wasikowska as a teenage girl who chases a rabbit down a magical whole and ends up in a sinister wonderland. Helena Bonham Carter steals the show as the demented Red Queen.
Mary Magdalene (2018) ★★★★
Sky Premiere, 5.50pm
In Gareth Davis’s spare and haunting drama, a young woman from Galilee is so impressed by a wandering preacher that she drops everything and decides to follow him. With Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix.
Dad’s Army (2016) ★★
Toby Jones is well-cast as the endearingly pompous Captain Mainwaring in this otherwise ill-advised movie adaptation of the much-loved 1970s sitcom. Bill Nighy plays the raffish Sergeant Wilson.
Far from the Madding Crowd ★★★
In Thomas Vinterberg’s handsome adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s rural novel, Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, the beautiful young woman whose arrival on her aunt’s Dorset farm turns the heads of several men. With Matthias Schoenaerts.
Zootropolis (2016) ★★★
Very amusing Disney animation about a keen young rabbit who fulfils her dream of going to the big city to become a police officer and soon uncovers a conspiracy. With the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba.
Mary Poppins (1964) ★★★★★
As a plodding remake arrives in the cinemas, another chance to see Disney’s magnificent family classic, starring Julie Andrews as a magical nanny who descends from the skies to put manners on the unruly children of a kindly but distracted suffragette. With Dick Van Dyke.
Peter Rabbit (2018) ★★
Sky Premiere, 6pm
Winning performances from Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne just about save this misguided update of the classic Beatrix Potter stories about a mischievous rabbit and his battles with mankind. With James Corden.
The Lady in the Van (2015) ★★★
Maggie Smith is superb as always in this amusing drama based on the true story of an eccentric homeless woman who spent 15 years camping in the driveway of writer Alan Bennett’s London home. With Alex Jennings.
Sing Street (2016) ★★★★
In John Carney’s delightful musical comedy based on his 1980s youth, teenager Robert is not best pleased when his parents send him to a tough inner city school to save money. He struggles to fit in, but when he starts a band, everything changes. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars.
The Jungle Book (2016) ★★★
Viewers be warned: this is not the joyful 1960s animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s Indian tales, but an altogether grittier live-action retelling in which real actors are skilfully blended with CGI animals.
Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015) ★★★★★
RTÉ One, 6.50pm
In JJ Abrams’ exuberant franchise revival, Daisy Ridley is Rey, an orphaned scavenger on an obscure planet who joins the Rebellion after finding a droid carrying a very valuable secret — the whereabouts of legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker. With Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford.
Skyfall (2014) ★★★★
In one of the finest Bond films, 007 returns to London after someone tries to kill his boss, M, and ends up tracking down a verbose but chilling villain. Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem star.
The Duchess (2008) ★★★★
Drama based on the true story of Georgiana Spencer, an ancestor of Diana’s who married one of the most powerful men in England in the 1770s and became a much loved celebrity. But her marriage to the Duke of Cavendish was not a happy one. With Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes.
Deadpool (2016) ★★★
Crass superhero comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, a callous mercenary who becomes an unstable masked crime-fighter after being disfigured by a radical cancer cure. With Gina Carano.
My Week with Marilyn (2011) ★★★★
Biopic based on Colin Clark’s memoirs of his time on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a 1957 romantic comedy which paired the mismatched talents of Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. With Michelle Williams.
St Stephen’s Day
The Young Victoria (2009) ★★★★
Handsome period drama set in the 1830s and charting the intrigue that surrounded Queen Victoria when she ascended to the throne at the tender age of 18. Emily Blunt stars, and Rupert Friend plays Prince Albert.
Saving Mr Banks (2013) ★★★★
An epic battle of wills ensues when Walt Disney invites the crusty Australian author PL Travers to Hollywood to discuss a film adaptation of her children’s book, Mary Poppins. Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson star.
Cinderella (2015) ★★★★
RTÉ One, 3.55pm
Kenneth Branagh’s handsome live-action reimagining of the 1950s Disney film stars Lily James as the orphaned girl who lives under the yoke of her cruel stepmother until her fairy godmother changes her life.
The BFG (2016) ★★★★
In Steven Spielberg’s affectionate adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s story, Mark Rylance plays the affable giant who introduces an orphaned London girl to a secret and dangerous world. With Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall.
Ant-Man (2015) ★★★
Comical superhero adventure starring Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a mild-mannered cat burglar who gets more than he bargained for when he steals an incredible shrinking suit. Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll and Michael Pena co-star.
The Magnificent Seven (2016) ★★★
RTÉ One, 9.50pm
In this unremarkable remake of John Sturges’ 1960 western, Denzel Washington plays a gunslinger with a grudge who agrees to help the oppressed residents of a remote mining town. Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke co-star.
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) ★★★★
Po the panda is feeling pretty good about himself until a fearsome creature emerges from the spirit world intent on global domination. Jack Black heads the voice cast of this beautifully animated sequel.
Sky Premiere, 6.10pm
In this amusing big-budget CGI adventure, Dwayne Johnson plays an expert primatologist who must race to save his favourite gorilla when an alien virus transforms it into a furious giant.
Anthropoid (2016) ★★★
Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan head the cast of this gritty action film based on the true story of two Czech commandos who parachuted into occupied Prague to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, architect of the Holocaust.
Argo (2012) ★★★★
Ben Affleck directs and stars in this Oscar-winning drama about a wily CIA man who enters Tehran in 1979 posing as a filmmaker in order to rescue a group of stranded Americans.
Rush (2013) ★★★★
RTÉ One, 11.40pm
Ron Howard’s hugely entertaining sporting biopic is set in the golden age of motor racing and dramatises the epic rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 season.
A Date for Mad Mary (2016) ★★★★
Virgin Media One, midnight
In Darren Thornton’s edgy comic drama, the brilliant Seana Kerslake plays a young Drogheda woman with a troubled past and a quick temper who struggles to reconnect with her friends when she’s released from prison.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012) ★★★
In this nostalgic Disney animation, the destructive villain in a 1980s video game dreams of overturning his bad guy image and becoming a hero. With John C. Reilly.
Eddie the Eagle (2016) ★★★
Channel 4, 8pm
Taron Egerton heads the cast of this affectionate tribute to Michael ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Edwards, a failed downhill skier who won the hearts of the Calgary crowds at the 1988 Winter Olympics after taking up ski-jumping.
Ben-Hur (2016) ★★
In this garish remake of the great epic, Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur is sold into slavery after falling foul of Pontius Pilate. Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman star.
Christmas week in Soapland
It’s beginning to kick off just like Chriiiistmaaaasss... And we all know what that means: everywhere you go it’ll be wall-to-wall hour-long soap specials featuring births in confined spaces, deaths, marriages, exposed affairs, and — traditionally — more baying than the average eardrum can handle. Unsurprisingly, most of the screeching will be coming from Chez Slater. Alfie’s after digging a(nother) hole for himself by leading Hayley to believe she has a future with him, despite him repeatedly flashing Kat’s wedding ring about. As ever, someone is about to rumble his ruse, but which one of the Slaters will it be? More pertinently, what shade of rage will Kat go when it’s finally revealed that Alife is Cherry’s father? Kim gives birth in the Minute Mart storeroom with nothing but Phil Mitchell to help her. Across the Square, the Carters prepare for the Christmas karaoke at The Vic but nobody’s allowed have a good time at Christmas in Walford so an “unexpected visitor” upsets things for them somewhat. The inevitable happens between Keanu and Louise.
A hungover Tim is unsure what to do upon receiving a visiting order from Sally, but Eileen pushes him to visit her. As he sets off, Faye tells him she saw him in bed with Gina... Not such a silent night after all, wha’? While Faye thinks it’s no biggie, Sophie is absolutely livid, and is quick to share the news over Christmas lunch. Still, it could be worse; Daniel and Sinéad host a vegan Christmas Day for Adam, Ken, Peter, Beth, Kirk and Craig. Meanwhile, at The Platts’, Gail is furious that she wasn’t informed about Nick’s secret wife, but she does end up with some scandalous news when she overhears a covert conversation involving Lewis and Audrey’s new windfall. In some rather random news: Peter and Simon find snooker cues in pentangles on the floor of the snooker hall and ‘666’ scrawled on the wall in chalk.
When Ellie reveals she has no friends in Brazil, Renée is gutted that the youngster is sacrificing her future to look after Heather. Tensions between Hayley and Carol threaten their Girls Night — will they mange to put Robbie to one side? Especially as all three of them are spending Christmas day together… Either way, it looks like one of them is getting engaged. Melanie looks in to buying a car when she realises sleeping in the launderette is no longer an option. What will Alex do when he finds his mum sleeping in a car Christmas night? Oisín gives da, Paul, a voucher for an escort agency, several people fall ill, and Charlotte returns to characteristically churlish form.
Ah, now, it wouldn’t be Christmas week without a surprise wedding. Marlon and Jessie have decided to have a quickie wedding — so, naturally, the Dingles have one hell of a stag party for the chef. Well, himself and Sam end up in the back of a delivery van in the middle of nowhere on the morning of the nuptials, so it can only go uphill from there. The rift between Nicola and Bernice is a gaping chasm as Rodders’ best intentions only serves to make things worse. In yet more bad news for Bernice and Dr Liam, she goes on a balloon-popping rampage in a bid to hide her age from him. Bob, meanwhile, is desolate, what with him owing money all over the shop, while David and his exes, Leyla and Tracy, plan their joint Christmas dinner. Just when you thought that scenario couldn’t be more awkward, sparks start flying between Jacob and David’s current squeeze, Maya. Harriet wants to track down Dawn, will Ryan succeed in helping her find her?
Ros Na Rún
There’s Christmas cheer in the Daly household — until an unexpected visitor arrives at the door. Will Laoise be disappointed or will it be Reailtín who gets the hump?