Here’s your Christmas TV guide
From an epic remake of a classic adventure to the scandalous underworld of high society, plus plenty of festive faves and musical majesty, here’s what you need to tune in to this Christmas.
It’s A Wonderful Life
2pm, Channel 4, Christmas Eve
For many of us, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without sitting in front of this Frank Capra classic. It may be in black and white, but It’s A Wonderful Life still has a lot for us to learn about community spirit today, and has an extra-large helping of feel-good sentimentality that we all love to indulge in over the holidays. James Stewart is George Bailey – a man on the brink of suicide, who wishes he had never been born after his lot in life seems to be caving in on him. Luckily, his guardian angel, Clarence, pops down for a visit to show him the true value of his life.
4.30pm, BBC1, Christmas Eve
Robert Downey Jr. follows in the footsteps of Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy in this big-screen outing for the animal-friendly medic, this time with a menagerie of CGI creatures. The doctor crosses the globe in search of a magical plant to save Queen Victoria from a life-threatening illness, accompanied by a temperature-sensitive polar bear, a nervous silverback gorilla and a paranoid ostrich. Emma Thompson provides some voiceover wisecracks.
6pm, Channel 4, Christmas Eve
Kevin McCallister is accidentally left behind when his large family leaves for a festive holiday in Paris. But what is, at first, the realisation of every kid’s dream to rule the roost soon turns into a nightmare for Kevin, when two burglars target his house – prompting our pint-sized hero to use all of his schoolboy cunning to repel them. Gather the whole family around for this one – you know as well as we do by now that it’s Christmas entertainment at its finest.
Shaun The Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas
6pm, BBC1, Christmas Eve
The nation’s favourite sheep returns to our TV screens once again in this Christmas adventure – his first since 2015. Snow is falling, decorations have gone up and the Christmas market is in town: yep, Christmas has arrived at the farm. But during a farmhouse raid to get bigger stockings for the flock, Timmy goes missing. Can Shaun rescue him before he becomes someone else’s present?! Cue chaos and fun for all the family.
All Creatures Great and Small: Christmas Special
9pm, Channel 5, Christmas Eve
All Creatures Great and Small’s Christmas special is like being wrapped up in your favourite blanket – which is just what the doctor ordered this festive period.
Set in 1937, All Creatures Great and Small follows the adventures of James Herriot, a young country vet helping the community of a small, Yorkshire town. This festive special follows on straight from the end of the second series, which saw James getting down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend, Helen. The episode hinges on the mishaps that follow the young couple after each wrongly assumes where they’ll be spending the holidays. Expect laughs, Christmas parties, carolling and, of course, plenty of four-legged friends.
11.10am, BBC2, Christmas Day
Sometimes, all you want on Christmas Day is to kick back with an absolute classic of the silver screen. If that’s you this year, we recommend you look no further than Casablanca. For anyone who hasn’t yet seen this timeless love story – wrapped up inside a wartime thriller – then let us enlighten you. Humphrey Bogart gives a career-best performance as Rick, the cynical expat nightclub owner who becomes embroiled with Paul Henreid’s resistance leader during the conflict. It doesn’t hurt that Henreid has fetched up Bogart’s old flame, in the form of Ingrid Bergman. The script was written with such wit and meaning, it’s still being quoted (and mis-quoted) years later.
2.30pm, BBC1, Christmas Day
The festive adaptations of Julia Donaldson’s cracking children’s stories have very quickly established themselves as an integral part of the Christmas celebrations for families with kids about. And for good reason – these tall tales will have grown-ups as intrigued as the little ones.
In this adventure, Superworm is a comic book hero with a difference; he is super long, super-strong and always on hand to help other animals and insects. But soon Superworm’s special skills bring him to the unwanted attention of the wicked Wizard Lizard… With a voice cast made up of Olivia Colman, Matt Smith and Rob Brydon, you can expect an expert level of family entertainment.
Call The Midwife
8pm, BBC 1, Christmas Day
Christmas just wouldn’t quite be Christmas unless we took a trip down memory lane to visit the nuns and midwives at Nonnatus House. And in this year’s festive special, we have a Nativity and a wedding to prepare for, plus your regular barrage of birthing mishaps, babies and heartbreaks.
The Christmas of 1966 promises to be a memorable one for the residents of Nonnatus House, as Lucille and Cyril prepare for their upcoming winter wedding. Not that there’s an awful lot of time to prepare, as the team are faced with their busiest Christmas Day ever, as the Maternity Home is filled with expectant mothers-to-be, each with their own challenging case. You can expect everything we love about this show in bucketloads, sprinkled with a little Christmas magic.
9.35pm, BBC4, Christmas Day
This nostalgic wartime offering satirises the pluck and courage on the home front, while the fighting raged overseas. Gemma Arterton joins the Ministry of Information and is put to work as a scriptwriter for propaganda movies, although her boss (Sam Claflin) says she’s only qualified to write ‘the slop’ – aka, the women’s dialogue. Guilt-tripped by her resentful, war-wounded partner, Arterton throws herself into the production of a Dunkirk drama. Bill Nighy (as always) pretty much steals the show in this funny, romantic comedy drama that doesn’t let us forget that wars on any front are a matter of life and death.
9.35pm, BBC2, Christmas Day
Luciano Pavarotti died in 2007, aged 71, from pancreatic cancer. In this documentary film, Ron Howard offers a thorough rundown of the singing career of this operatic legend, with pointers to the personality behind the high notes. The terrors of the Second World War and near-death from a childhood illness foreshadowed his drive to break into the operatic scene, and his 1963 Covent Garden debut proved a milestone event. Incredible archive footage ensures that this will appeal to the die-hard and casual fans alike.
Beauty and the Beast
2.20pm, BBC1, Boxing Day
This live-action remake of Disney’s 1991 animated movie excels in its casting, perfectly encapsulating the characters we have all grown up knowing and loving. Emma Watson stars as Belle, who is taken captive by the cursed Beast (Downton’s Dan Stevens), yet begins to fall for his charms, thanks to the help of some dancing crockery. Director Bill Condon expands the story to explain the fate of Belle’s mother and stages some memorable musical numbers – not least Luke Evans and Josh Gad’s fantastic bar-room rendition of Gaston.
Around the World in 80 Days
5.50pm, BBC 1, Boxing Day
David Tennant takes on the role of intrepid adventurer Phileas Fogg – an upper-class English gent who bets he can circumnavigate the world in just 80 days – in BBC1’s epic new eight-part series, based on the classic novel by Jules Verne.
Joining Phileas on his adventure are his valet, Passepartout, and young journalist Abigail Fix (The Crown’s Leonie Benesch), who seizes the opportunity to report on the potentially legendary journey. But the trio soon find themselves in some sticky situations…
A Very British Scandal
9pm, BBC1, Boxing Day
Claire Foy became a household name when she rather expertly took on the role of Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. Now, she’s playing another member of the British aristocracy – Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll – alongside Wimbledon and The Da Vinci Code star Paul Bettany, who plays her onscreen husband.
Comprising of three, one-hour episodes, A Very British Scandal focuses on the tumultuous, very public divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, which has been described as one of the 20th century’s most notorious, extraordinary and brutal legal cases. It was a divorce which was highly publicised and included the discovery of salacious photographs and scandalous testimonies.
Famed for her charisma, beauty and style, Margaret was a bonafide celebrity who frequently made the front pages. But when a string of dalliances on both sides leads to Margaret and her husband parting ways, the media frenzy which was to follow would epitomise the social attitudes of post-war Britain towards women and the widespread, institutional misogyny of the time.
Adele: The BBC Sessions
10pm, BBC2, Boxing Day
A trip back in the archives reminds us of how it all started for this London-born superstar – very welcome if, like us, you’re obsessed with her new album. There’ll be a chance to enjoy all of Adele’s biggest hits and to relive some of her earliest performances on the BBC, including her first TV appearance on Later… with Jools Holland in 2007, where she sang Daydreamer. Oh, we love a good musical special around this time of year!
11pm, BBC4, Boxing Day
If you fancy reminding yourself of a younger, less caricatured Cher, then tune into this unashamedly romantic movie from 1987, which sees the superstar on Oscar-winning form as a widow who looks set for a safe remarriage to Danny, but falls instead for his volatile brother (played by Nicholas Cage). Painting a warm, affectionate picture of Italian-American life, Moonstruck still has plenty of quirky touches that stop it all from becoming just that bit too saccharine. The easiest kind of heart-warming post-Christmas TV.