Stay-at-Home Seven: Christmas week selection box

A bumper edition of our guide to the best films on TV

by Amber Wilkinson

Doctor Zhivago
Doctor Zhivago

Welcome to this week's bumper selection of films to catch on telly this week - hopefully it's a Stay-at-Home selection box that doesn't hold any duds. Everyone at Eye For Film wishes all the best for the festive season.

Doctor Zhivago, 1.50pm, BBC2, Tuesday, December 21

David Lean's epic love story set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution has lost little of its appeal in the five decades or so since it was made. It was just that Lean thought big with this film and the likes of Lawrence Of Arabia, he was able to sweep audiences easily into thinking big as well, while always remembering to retain a focus on the human stories at the heart of his films. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have the twin engines of Julie Christie and Omar Sharif generating aching longing for one another but the rest of the cast, from Tom Courtenay's zealot to Rod Steiger's manipulative cad Komarovsky, also make a lasting impression. It is only fair to add, however, that your mileage may vary in terms of Maurice Jarre's score - suffice to say that balalaika fans are well served.

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, 11.30am, ITV, Tuesday, December 22

John Lewis stood accused of "ripping off" Steven Spielberg's enduring classic this year - but watching the original tale a lost alien who just wants to get home should prove the perfect antidote to consumerism. Spielberg's trademark focus on children's experience is here as the camera gets down to their level as they take on a world of, largely uncaring, adults and a friendship blossoms between Elliot (Henry Thomas) and the little man from outer space. The message of peace, love and understanding is surprisingly sugar-free thanks to Melinda Mathison's snappy script that shows a sharp ear for the knockabout interaction between kids.

Guys And Dolls, BBC2, 3.40pm, Wednesday, December 22

If the likes of Everyone's Talking About Jamie and Steven Spielberg's West Side Story reimagining have got you in the mood for musicals this year, then you should check out Joseph Mankiewicz's bright and breezy take on the Broadway classic. Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) makes a wager with Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that he can't persuade devout Mission sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) to go on a date with him. Producers originally wanted Gene Kelly for the part, but Brando makes it completely his own and the film is bristling with well-choreographed musical numbers, including Luck Be A Lady, A Bushel And A Peck and Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat.

Widows, Film4, 9pm, Wednesday, December 22

Steve McQueen transports Lynda La Plante's Eighties TV hit about women who decide to pull off their dead husband's heist, from Britain to Chicago. The result is a gritty thriller that underpins its genre elements with plenty of commentary on race, class and misogyny. McQueen balances the film's heist element with character driven narrative concerning the way the women - and, indeed, most of the city - are trapped by circumstance, asking whether they can change sufficiently to beat the odds. The emotional heft of the film is brought home by the water-tight cast, including Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki, though it's Cynthia Ervio's physical and intense performance that proves to be the highlight.

Pete's Dragon, BBC1, 3.05pm, Wednesday, December 22

Director David Lowery has a natural feel for the mythic - as he again proved earlier this year with The Green Knight - and he puts it to good use in this remake of the tale of an orphan boy (Oakes Fegley), who befriends a dragon called Elliot. Lowery's version of the creature has an organic feel, as though he has grown up from the forest floor itself and the sense of magic also feels as enveloping as a flurry of leaves rather than hinging on specific 'tricks'. When conflict and fight scenes arrive, they work less well, not least because Elliot is rather too sweet for that kind of thing, but the more general spirit of adventure and friendship is a family-friendly winner.

Cinderella, BBC1, 3.05pm, Thursday, December 23

Fairy tales are meant to be told and retold and Cinderella has certainly had her fair share of adaptations. This one, by Kenneth Branagh, is a firmly traditional take on the tale and no the worse for that. Lily James stars as Ella, who finds herself up against the social climbing sarcasm of her stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and idiotic step-sisters Drizella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Granger). The mood of the film is underscored by great costuming from Sandy Powell, which puts James in pretty blues against the envious greens and jaundiced golds of her stepmother. The performances are excellent across the board and the transformation scenes are a treat.

Frozen, BBC1, 1.30pm, Friday, Christmas Eve

If Cinderella follows a traditional path, this winner from Disney presents us with a thoroughly modern princess, Elsa, who exiles herself after accidentally plunging her kingdom into permanent winter and whose sister, Anna, is determined to get her back.  Sure, watching this might lead to your youngsters subjecting you to renditions of Let It Go right through Christmas dinner but it's hard to beat as a family film. All the classic elements are here, including a sisterly bond that refused to be broken by exile, some beautifully animated action sequences and the inevitable quirky sidekick - in this case Olaf the snowman who dreams of summer. It's been made with a love for the Disney back catalogue but with an eye to more modern ideas about relationships.

Back To The Future, 3.45pm, ITV2 Christmas Eve

Returning to films like this after a long lay-off is a bit like the joy of meeting an old friend you haven't seen for years - you remember all the things you already knew about them but there's still something fresh about it. Robert Zemeckis' tale of Marty McFly (Michael J Fox), a kid who ends up going back to the night when his parents were supposed to hook up - with the help of scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) - and finds his mother taking a shine to him in ways that aren't good for his future wellbeing, has stood the test of time. This is largely because the themes are so universal - the idea of kids always being a bit disappointed in their parents, while parents, of course, had a youth that their own kids can't fully imagine. The visual storytelling draws you in immediately, from the rows of clocks (it took 20 clock wranglers to make that work), to the breakfast experiment - with burnt toast and a bowl full of dog food - to Marty hitching a skateboard ride through the town's streets. The gadgets manage to hit that sweet spot of new-fangled and nostalgic perfectly and the sound design also adds immensely. All the actors are on the top of their game, with Lloyd just the right degree of zany and Fox hitting the comic beats perfectly - not to mention Crispin Glover's odd but perfect turn as Marty's Dad George. Zemeckis takes his time to build the characters initially, which pays off increasingly as the film goes along and the plot elements slot satisfyingly into place. Also, I was struck by how the bodywarmer Marty wears - and is a running joke about being a life-preserver - has come right back into fashion. One of those films you can go back and watch time and time again.

Amazing Grace, BBC2, 11pm, Christmas Eve

She was known as the Queen of Soul and I defy her performance here not to lift yours, whatever you do or don't believe in terms of faith. The story behind this is amazing in itself. Filmed all the way back in 1972, Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) turned his hand to concert directing, something he wasn't used to and he was given the job over the more experienced James Signorelli, who was originally in the frame. Presumably due to inexperience, Pollack didn't use clapperboards - which help synchronise the sound with the picture, so he ended up with some 2,000 bits of film and no idea how they married to the music and that wasn't fixed until a technical team tackled it in 2008. Then they couldn't find the contract with Franklin for the release and, when they ultimately did, she challenged it. Finally, after her death, her niece Sabrina Owens approved it and here we are. And what a place to be! The fact there were so many cameras has become a virtue in hindsight as there's a real sense of energy about the whole enterprise, Franklin's powerful performance somehow magnified more by the fact she's so quiet in between times. It's truly intimate because of the church setting and the fact that the crowd act not like music fans but in the way of a gospel congregation, jumping up to join in or euphorically clapping along. You feel both the warmth of her room and the heat of her spirit - cinema at its most joyful.

Casablanca, BBC2, 11.10am, Christmas Day

Infinitely quotable and featuring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart at the top of their game, there's little wonder Michael Curtiz's film about impossible choices and a reunion between old lovers regularly makes it into lists of favourites. The secondary players are all from the top drawer, too, with Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre all puting in memorable performances. It's the heart of the matter that really makes the film tick, however, and scenes between Bergman and Bogart are economical as well as emotionally rich. Plus, of course, there's the song, As Time Goes By, which gains resonance the more you think about it.

Mary Poppins Returns, 3.10pm, BBC1 Christmas Day

Anne-Katrin Titze writes: The kids of the Banks family, Michael (Ben Whishaw, who is the voice of Paddington) and Jane (Emily Mortimer) have grown up since the classic 1964 movie where Julie Andrews left off. In fact, Michael is a widower with three small kids of his own, Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson), while Aunt Jane, in her mother's activist footsteps is a union organiser under the banner SPRUCE (Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Underpaid Citizens of England). The stakes are high and the fears tangible in this return, which invites discussion and doesn't protect parents from uncomfortable questions. This is the power of the film. Mary Poppins herself wouldn't want it any other way. And Emily Blunt is a wonderful incarnation of the magical nanny who floats down from the heavens, when a kite delivers just the right message and kids are in need of some attention. Rob Marshall and his terrific team didn't go for the fast and easy path, the nostalgia comes with rhyme and reason. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s opening number on bike, ladder and lampposts as Jack the leerie, lights up the screen from the get-go.

North By Northwest, BBC2, 3.20pm, Christmas Eve

If you've got some last-minute presents to rap, you could do a lot worse than tune in to BBC2's double-bill of Hitchcock, which also includes To Catch A Thief at 1.35pm. This pacy thriller starring Cary Grant as an innocent man on the run is the pick of the pair. Much less sympathetic than your average fugitive, Grant nevertheless ends up making him likeable through the course of the film that grips from its first moments to the last and takes in plenty of American landmarks on the way - from Grand Central Station to Mount Rushmore. Energetic and packed with memorable moments, like that crop duster plane chase, this is among Hitch's finest.

In Bruges, Film4, 1.45am, Boxing Day If you haven't slipped into a turkey coma by this point in the early hours of Boxing Day, then make time to check out this smart black comedy about two hitmen, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell), who are stuck in the Belgian city after Ray's first kill goes bad. Although Martin McDonagh's debut feature doesn't always blend its more derivative action flick content with the jet black humour it's got a distinctive feel and a surprising amount of poignancy.

Trolls, 11.30am, BBC1

I was going to include Paddington here - but due to some sort of scheduling travesty poor old Scotland is getting the woeful Dr Dolittle in the same slot. So, here's one that's showing across the UK. It's true that a spin-off from a small plastic toy with a sprout of spiky hair might not sound like a recipe for success - but this animated tale, featuring the voices of Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, is a dose of sunshine. The trolls have, thankfully, not faced a virus threat as they're all about those fuzzy feelings - except for Branch (Timberlake). He is worried a party that is being organised will attract the unwanted attentions of the miserable Bergens, who think eating a troll will bring them happiness. When a chef swipes a handful of the cheerful trolls, a rescue mission is organised. Sweet without being saccharine and with a soundtrack that blends classics with modern remixes, it's a chance to catch up with these sparkly souls ahead of next month's release of sequel Trolls World Tour.

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