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Unwrapping a Dickens of a Christmas


JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, unveils his Christmas special - a bumper guide to the best films coming to TV over the festive season (from Sunday, Dec 20).

Season’s greetings to all our readers, as it always says on the front of the Beano at this time of year. In this particular year, to paraphrase Tiny Tim, ‘Gawd ‘elp us, every one!!’

With a reference to the Cratchitts, it is a good departure point to explore the origins of modern Christmas. It would appear that the blame can be placed squarely at the feet of one Charles Dickens Esq.

In fact, The Man who Invented Christmas 2017 (Channel 4 16.55 Sun 20 Dec) does exactly that. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) plays Charlie, aided and abetted by the likes of Miriam Margolyes and Morfydd Clark (A Personal History of David Copperfield - coming to a film club near you as soon as we are allowed) - and Bharat Nalluri (Torchwood, Life on Mars) directs. It does help to explain the shift in focus of Christmas towards children and charity as Charles gathers inspiration for A Christmas Carol. So much so, that Dickens himself has become curiously synonymous with Christmas.

You will find at least one A Christmas Carol 1984 (Channel 4 12.40 Thu 24 Dec), with George C Scott as Ebenezer. Scrooge 1970 (BBC2 09.35 Thu 23 Dec) presents Albert Finney in the lead of the musical version. Simon Callow reads the tale at midnight on Sunday 20 Dec (or Monday morning, if you prefer) on BBC4.

On the basis that any Dickens will do at Christmas time, the visually imaginative classic, David Lean’s Oliver Twist 1948 (Talking Pictures TV 10.30 Thu 24 Dec) or Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! 1968 (Channel 5 12.05 Fri 25 Dec), pictured above, should help you find the right tone for this Christmas. While a two-part TV adaptation with Timothy Spall begins on BBC4, on Sun 20 Dec at 20.00. The Invisible Woman (BBC2 00.40 Sun 27 Dec) tells the tale of the protracted affair that Charlie had with a young actress, Nelly Tiernan, based on the novel by Claire Tomalin. Ralph Fiennes plays Chas here and is also prominent as Magwitch in Great Expectations 2012 (BBC2 00.30 Sun 20 Dec). It is as though all of our Dickens have come home to roost!

For those of you with children to entertain, there follows a list of recommendations for younger audiences. For those of you without, pour yourself another glass of something warming and just indulge in these, ‘cos there is more to them than meets the eye.

We have a pair of Paddingtons: no 1, 2014 (Channel 4 17.15 Thu 31 Dec) and no 2, 2017 (BBC1 16.15 Thu 24 Dec or 10.20 Mon 28 Dec) with Hugh Grant threatening to steal the show as the baddie oozing smarm and guile. The film, however, has a political manifesto of tolerance and inclusion from the Marmalade muncher in the duffle coat that would get my vote any day.

One of the quirkier Pixar projects is Inside Out 2015 (BBC1 13.20 Mon 28 Dec) which animates what goes on in the mind of an 11-year-old girl as she tries to make sense of the world. I am still waiting for the sequel when she hits puberty, but I suspect that Disney might be rather less keen on that for family viewing!

Debbie Isitt’s Nativity cycle reaches no 3 with Dude, Where’s my Donkey? 2014 (C5 12.00 Sun 20 Dec). Martin Clunes has the dubious honour of teaching the young talents of St Bernadette’s but loses his memory. His predecessors merely lost their minds.

Aardman Animation bring us the splendidly subversive Shaun the Sheep Movie (BBC1 10.20 Sun 27 Dec) in which the flock set off for the city to rescue their amnesiac farmer (is this an epidemic? Can you get herd immunity?!) and probably Aardman’s finest achievement to date, Chicken Run (ITV2 15.50 Fri 25 Dec) rounds off a sublime afternoon’s viewing on Christmas Day. This is Animal Farm meeting The Great Escape with the smartest of scripts and a sublime voice cast that includes Julia Sawahla, Jane Horrocks (both from Ab Fab), Celia Imrie and Mel Gibson.

Christmas afternoon has been curated by a programmer after my own heart. Singin’ in the Rain 1952 (BBC2 11.35 Fri 25 Dec), quite possibly the best movie about movie making ever made, with a couple of quite good songs, too. It will bring a little joy into your humdrum lives! Some Like It Hot (BBC2 13.15 Fri 25 Dec) in which musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag are joined by ditzy blonde singer,

Marilyn Monroe, while on the run from the mob after witnessing the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. This film never fails to lift my spirits. Its energy, wit and timing are perfect. And it's followed by Chicken Run. If an excess of laughter causes shortness of breath, try breathing calmly into a paper bag.

What does the Horror Channel have on offer for Christmas Day? I saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus?

Silent but Deadly Night: Revenge of the Sprouts? Sadly not. Mostly it consists of Star Trek movies with

lumpy-headed beefcake and boffins and curiously seductive sirens in purple and green – colours not found in the Avon range.

A cursory scan of a very busy schedule presents a cluster of other interesting movies that have little to do with the festive season. Notes on a Scandal 2006 (BBC1 00.25 Sun 20 Dec) is an acerbic comedy which allows Judi Dench to sharpen her teeth on some wicked dialogue to use on Cate Blanchett.

The Phantom Thread 2017 (BBC2 22.00 Wed 23 Dec), allegedly Daniel Day Lewis’ final film, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood), takes us to an haute couture fashion house in London in the 1950s where his young model, Vicky Krieps, becomes his muse and lover. Synopses never do justice to Anderson’s work. He is a consummate master of cinema and visual storytelling.

La La Land (BBC2 22.10 Fri 25 Dec) is another piece of technical wizardry, this time by Damien Chazelle. It stars Ryan Gosling as a jazz musician down on his luck, and Emma Stone as an aspiring actress. The instant I saw this, I knew Chazelle had won the best director Oscar. This is virtuosic direction laid out for all to see. It is a musical for people who don’t like musicals; a film about jazz for people who don’t like jazz after 1955. Beyond that, it is a soufflé of songs and set pieces.

Musicality of a different kind is to be found in Florence Foster Jenkins 2016 (BBC4 23.05 Fri 25 Dec), a

portrait of the tone deaf diva, graciously played by Meryl Streep ably supported by her husband, played

by Hugh Grant, in what must be his finest comic performance to date. It is as warm and compassionate

as she must have been infuriating to live with.

Mr Holmes 2015 (BBC2 18.20 Fri 1 Jan 2021) finds Ian McKellen as twilight Sherlock, reflecting on his life, the biography that John Watson had written of him and the case which forced him to abandon his career. This is thoughtful, reflective stuff that takes a simple idea and works it into something more profound.

Grandma 2015 (Film4 02.25 Sun 20 Dec) is a subtle and perceptive story of three generations of women. Julia Garner is the young woman with an unplanned pregnancy. Lily Tomlin is the 60s' non-conformist grandma of the title who finds sense and sensibility to address the situation and Marcia Gay Harden is the mother who has become estranged from both. Tomlin is wonderfully disruptive and commanding.

There is plenty more to delight and distract:

Casablanca, 1942 (BBC2 14.15 Wed 23 Dec);

Calamity Jane 1953 (BBC2 13.10 Sat 26 Dec);

Kind Hearts and Coronets 1949 (Talking Pictures TV 13.15 Sun 20 Dec);

Catch Us if you Can 1965 (Talking Pictures TV 00.45 Thu 31 Dec) with the Dave Clark Five;

Withnail and I 1986 (Film4 23.15 Fri 1 Jan 2021) to see in the New Year on Film4;

A fistful of Carry Ons;

Up the Chastity Belt 1971 (Talking Pictures TV 01.35 Wed 23 Dec) with Frankie Howerd;

StokeScreen favourites Hidden Figures 2016 (Channel 4 18.40 Sat 26 Dec); the Death of

Stalin 2017 (BBC2 21.30 Sun 20 Dec) and Carol 2015 (Film4 01.25 Wed 23 Dec) which will come to StokeScreen as soon as we are allowed to meet again.

As ever, it is always good to hear back from you, so please put your thoughts down and send them to us at Stokescreenfilmclub@aol.com Facebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC and www.StokeScreen.uk