The Best Festive Films and Cracking Christmas Telly
A strange year is about to be capped by a very strange Christmas. If you've had your Christmas plans somewhat scuppered by new Tier 4 restrictions, our hearts go out to you. If you're on your lonesome to protect shielding family members, we salute you. If you made it home only to hesitate before going in for a long-overdue hug, we feel you.
Like the star on the top of the Christmas tree, this festive period is going to be crowned by corona - and for most people celebrating Christmas and the end of 2020, that means indulgence in excellent films and wholesome telly.
The best Christmas movies should contain all the ingredients we're in desperate need of this winter: cosiness and warmth; laughter and love; and a sense of continuity - that we'll carry on carrying on, and that coronavirus won't interfere with our cherished traditions.
So with that in mind - and our audience of actors to please - we've cobbled together FlairBox's festive feast of films and TV for you to treat yourself to in the next week.
On The Tellybox
Remember the days when you'd pop out to buy the Radio Times to see what the Christmas telly was going to be like? For anyone in the entertainment industry, 2020 has been the year streaming took over - leaving terrestrial TV in the dust. But there's still some solid television to enjoy this year.
The Christmas episodes of Eastenders and Coronation Street are always packed with action - either tying together a bundle of different story arcs, or introducing plenty of new ones. Call the Midwife is consistently excellent, and has won the Christmas telly awards for the past few years, while the Doctor Who Christmas special is always good value (this next one's called 'Revolution of the Daleks' which sounds suitably epic). If you fancy going old-school instead, there'll be more Only Fools and Horses than you can shake a stick at, as well as in ITV special celebrating the life and laughter-inducing lunacy of Billy Connolly.
Our top pick for feel-good fun on the telly this Christmas is Worzel Gummidge: Saucing Nancy. Mostly because watching Mackenzie Crook as the eponymous scarecrow is just a very enjoyable experience.
On the Stage
One of 2020's silver linings has been the public's engagement in theatre. Huge numbers tuned in to watch the National Theatre's live-streamed plays during the first lockdown. Millions scoured YouTube, inspired by the BBC's Play of the Month, for old recordings of classic performances. For lovers of the stage, it's been a strangely bracing, inspiring year.
After the sad passing of legendary actor Ian Holm (Alien, The Lord of the Rings) earlier this year, we particularly enjoyed revisiting Holm's performance, back in 1974, in Chekov's The Wood Demon. It's available on YouTube.
Elsewhere, and on the telly, there's The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity which promises pratfalls and staging mishaps, and David Mitchell's Upstart Crow Christmas Special - which Shakespeare nerds (like us) will love. Cue a chorus of whoops and groans, there are also musicals aplenty this Christmas. We're plumbing for Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Musical! as the best bet to infuriate your teenage brother.
Actors will also enjoy some solace and belly-fire from The Guardian's short production: We Begin Again. It was written by Olivier award winner James Graham, and produced alongside the National Theatre. For out of work actors, it's a massive and welcome rallying cry.
It's all happening on stream this winter, as you'll be well aware. We're going to start at the present day and go slowly back in time with our top picks for Christmas movies in 2020.
In what feels like a world first for such a high-budget movie, Wonder Woman 1984 is bypassing theatres altogether to hit your screens (if you subscribe to HBO, at least) on Christmas Day. We cannot wait for One Night in Miami, from trailblazing director Regina King. Set the night of Cassius Clay's 1964 defeat of Sonny Liston, it'll tell the story of the real-life meeting that took place afterwards: between Clay, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X.
On Netflix, Giving Voice is another hugely powerful work combining what we're all about: giving actors a chance, and letting their talent do the talking. It's a bunch of high school kids performing August Wilson ('The Playwright of Black America') monologues. Just watch it - and the recently-released screenplay of the Wilson stageplay Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which features the final performance of Chadwick Boseman after his tragic death in the summer.
Where on earth are we meant to start here!?
How about with the romcoms. Stranded in your flat with your partner instead of home with the parents? Then you'll be able to blub together by watching Love Actually or The Holiday. They might not be the niche arthouse films that you're expecting from an actors' magazine - but they're shoe-ins every Christmas.
Speaking of shoe-ins: let's get all of the dubious but much-loved festive films out of the way in one go. To see Bruce Willis' face frozen in the same expression for nearly two hours, there's Christmas action movie Die Hard. To see Jim Carey pull facial expressions you never thought possible, there's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Will Ferrell is good value in Elf, which is up there with the best Christmas films of all time. And a special shout-out to the Home Alone franchise - films set entirely within one house, for a year set entirely within your house.
Do you love the animation of Raymond Briggs' The Snowman as much as we do? We challenge you to listen to the 'Walking in the Air' section without coming over all melancholic. The Polar Express is an obvious extra pick, if you're looking for something magical and mystical to watch this winter.
An honorary mention here goes to Charlie Brown's Christmas, which is our 'Niche Festive Film' pick this year. It may be old and clunky, but it feels like the perfect Christmas film after a very clunky year.
Old But Gold
On to the oldies. We know you're squirming in your seat with your hand in the air wanting to suggest It's a Wonderful Life. It's just a great film, isn't it. If you've not seen it, warm your cockles by sticking it on the big screen this Christmas.
Remember the Night is a lesser-known golden oldie which we can't recommend enough - though the acting feels very stiff and of-the-era. The same goes for Miracle On 34th Street (1947) which comes with a beautiful line on the identity of Santa Claus:
"I ask the court to judge which is worse: a lie that draws a smile - or a truth that draws a tear."
There are dozens of versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol available online. We actually loved the BBC three-parter (one for every ghost) which aired last year - but you'll find performances of the book right the way back into the 1930s, if ye dare venture there.
Because it looks old, and it's been around since you can remember, we're including The Muppet Christmas Carol in this section. You know exactly what to expect from it, having seen it dozens of times - it should be a shoe-in comfort watch this winter.
We're going to conclude with a cheeky list of all those comfort watches you've been tuning in to at Christmas time since you were little - like Shrek, the pinnacle of the feel-good animation. Equally, the first two or three Harry Potter films - before things start getting a bit dark and gloomy - feature the kind of happy snowy Christmases Americans must think we in Britain experience every year.
For some reason, the UK always insists on playing The Great Escape and various James Bond films over the Christmas break. Since this year saw the passing of Sean Connery, we recommend going back to the old classics. For our money, Goldfinger is his best run-out in the tailored tux of 007.
The Wallace and Gromit film franchise is an excellent goldmine this Christmas, as are all Aardman films. We got ourselves all excited about the sequel to Chicken Run being announced earlier this year, until we discovered it's due for release in 2023...
And, in times of unprecedented international crisis, who can be more comforting than the world's most powerful lady? You'll catch The Queen's Speech on Christmas Day as usual this year. And, as usual, Channel 4 will be running their Alternative Christmas Message at the same time.