Christmas 2018: Top 10 Films on UK TV

image christmas presents

Our Jason Day has scoured the length and breadth of the Radio Times for what the best, most diverting and/or entertaining films being screened across the UK TV networks are this festive period. Do you agree? What will you be watching? Let us know below…


Sat 22 Dec 

Airplane! (1980)image film poster airplane
Universal TV, 7:30pm. Also – Thu 27 Dec, Sky Comedy, 1:50am.
Read the full review.

  • A plane carrying a motley assortment of disaster movies passengers is in trouble when food poisoning cripples the flight crew. It’s up to a failed Vietnam war pilot to conquer his fear of flying and save the day
  • A deliriously funny send-up of the glut of airborne disaster drama of the 1970’s
  • The film wins because of the relentless onslaught of clever visual gags, hilarious one-liners and commendably straight-faced playing from the whole
  • The best performances come from the veteran, B-movie actors in support. Leslie Nielsen as a moderately professional doctor (“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley”), Robert Stack as Hays’ former mentor turned nemesis and, brilliantly, Lloyd Bridges as an airport controller who battles throughout the film a series of addiction problems.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)image poster murder orient express reimagined poster
Sky Thriller, 9pm.
Read the full review.

  • Shady businessmen Richard Widmark boards the titular train but neglects to pull the emergency cord and ends up dead as it makes its way through a picture postcard of European locations
  • Amongst the suspects are mouthy socialite Lauren Bacall, stroke-afflicted Princess Wendy Hiller and timid Mummy’s boy Anthony Perkins. Enter Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot to find out ‘who-dunnit’
  • Impossibly pretty music by Richard Rodney Bennett dances about like an antelope high on Fairy dust
  • The whodunnit ending is the best of all-time and this is much better and more sensibly staged than the recent Kenneth Branagh remake.

Sun 23 Dec

The Greatest Showman (2017)image poster greatest showman jackman
Sky Musical, 6:10pm. Also – Christmas Day, Sky 1, 6:45pm; Christmas Day, Christmas Day, 9pm; Boxing Day, Sky Musicals, 7pm; Sat 29 Dec, 7:10pm; New Year’s Eve, Sky Musicals, 3pm; Fri 4 Jan, Sky Musicals, 8pm.
Read the full review.

  • Hugh Jackman stars as a highly fictionalised P.T. Barnum, the 19th century show business impressario who fights money troubles, horrible in-laws, fire and public condemnation to produce an indoor circus and ‘show of oddities’
  • A rousing, toe-tapping, soaring musical delight from start to finish
  • Jackman is in fine voice and there are some stupendous song and dance routines that mark this out as, musically and lyrically, a far better film then La La Land (which had songs penned by the same team as this movie)
  • Also scoring well are Zac Efron and Zendaya as the in-love young ones and, with tremendous range, Keala Settle as the Bearded Lady.

Christmas Day

Carry On Up the Kyber (1968)image film poster carry on up khyber
ITV3, 9:15pm.
Read the full review.

  • Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without three films on TV: James Bond, Ben-Hur…and a good old Carry On! ITV 3 are screening several, back to back, during the festive season
  • This one, a send-up of Rudyard Kipling stories, chronicles the Rajah and British Imperialism in India as Governor Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond (Sid James) and wife Joan Sims hold out against the might of the Khasi of Khalibar (Kenneth Williams)
  • The puns and daft situations are built up perfectly in what is one of the funniest films in the long-running series
  • Best bits: the infamous kilt-lifting scene and the final sequence as the Kasi’s forces besiege Ruff-Diamond’s house as the British, with true Brit-pluck. continue their dinner. As the masonry falls on a tipsy Sims, she declares “I do seem to have got a little plastered!”

Boxing Day

Ben-Hur (1959)
ITV4, 2:45pm. Also – New Year’s Day, ITV4, 2:35pm.
Read the full review.

  • The epic of all epics – the odyssey of a Jewish Prince betrayed by his beloved childhood friend –  is told over a mighty three and a half hours
  • Charlton Heston was one recipient of the 11 Oscars this movie won (it was nominated for 12) and takes the title role
  • Stephen Boyd is more impressive, glaring and glowering with nostrils flared, as Judah’s friend turned vindictive enemy Messala
  • Stunningly choreographed by lead director William Wyler, this earned a packet and still has a magisterial sweep to it
  • A long film but involving, intimate, psychologically nuanced and blessed with a literate script.

Thu 27 Dec

The Goonies (1985)image film poster goonies
5 Star,  6:50pm.

  • For a child of the 80’s, there was only one film that summed up pre-teen adventure and angst – everyone wanted to be a ‘Goonie’
  • Sean Astin – latterly of Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fame –  stars as the leader of the titular band of outsiders who chance upon a gangster family as they look for pirate treasure
  • Lavish, fantasy action set-pieces include flume-rides and pirate ships in this kids-only Indiana Jones
  • A great support performance from Ann Ramsey (Throw Momma From the Train, 1988) as the gargoyle-like head of the gangsters.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)image poster bram stoker dracula
Sky Sci-Fi/Horror, 11:05pm.

  • A beautiful, if rather fussy and cluttered, retelling of the classic romantic horror about an undead aristocrat who sees the love of his life from centuries before reborn as a shy society girl in Victorian England
  • Gary Oldman won his Beast Actor Oscar this year for Darkest Hour, but showed his chameleon-performance skills here in several of Dracula’s guises – the decrepit, elderly man; the youthful, passionate, conquering soldier and even an anthropomorphic bat
  • As the pretty young things in, respectively, his eye and way, Winona Ryder and Keanu struggle to make an impact
  • A treat for the eyes and ears, the real winner is the stunning design – costumes, sets and ravishing photography all make an impact and, eventually, overwhelm the narrative
  • Music featuring songs by Annie Lennox is correspondingly lush.

Sat 29 Dec

Hugo (2011)
Channel 4, 2:10pm.
Read the full review.

  • An orphaned boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a Paris train station. One day, he meets an elderly man (Ben Kingsley) who repairs watches and makes mechanical toys. That man is cinema pioneer Georges Melies, down on his luck now but who, at the turn of the 19th century, led the development of cinema editing and special effects with hundreds of short, ‘trick’ films
  • Silent cinema, particularly early silent cinema, so rarely gets noted in mainstream cinema and TV that when a movie that directly references that time and technology, its something to at least get intrigued about
  • Director Martin Scorsese is a big fan of archive motion pictures and has long championed film preservation and silent film restoration. Obviously, he was the right man to helm this.

Sun 30 Dec

The Birds (1962)

image poster birds hall mete

The Birds poster, by Halil Mete. Follow on instagram: halilmetemete.

Sky Cinema Classics, 5:50pm.

  • Remote society beauty Melanie  (‘Tippi’ Hedren) is the girl who captivates all around her, but is frustrated by her inability to hook handsome San Franciscan Rod Taylor. She follows him to his coastal home which is then attacked, inexplicably and violently, by flocks of birds, seemingly working together
  • Unsettling, ‘romantic’ horror from Alfred Hitchcock
  • The romance, of course, is all a big red herring as you’d expect from Hitch. This film has been disassembled and discussed by scholars and film students ever since its release in 1963, but it’s still a master-class from ‘The Master’ in how to wind an audience up and drop them back down.

New Year’s Day

The Revenant (2015)
BBC2 10pm.
Read the full review.

  • ‘Pioneer survival porn’ from the director of Birdman, it’s only right to namecheck it as such
  • Leonardo DiCaprio scooped a Best Actor Oscar after failing to snaffle one on a previous three occasions
  • He stars as a fur trapper in the 1820’s who, after a raid by First Nation people, finds himself struggling to survive. He is attacked by a bear and, whilst drifting and out of consciousness, sees his son murdered by Tom Hardy. He survives and resolves to kill Hardy
  • The intimate interior of the theatre in Birdman is swapped here for the vast expanses of North America and Canada – seen as a tiny black dot traipsing through a snowy valley, DiCaprio’s solo figure firmly places humanity as a just a speck on our planet
  • The bear attack scene, controversial at the time, is thrillingly staged but the acting, too, is noteworthy. DiCaprio certainly appears at his physical worse, all brown teeth and drooling mouth. Better still, though, is Hardy shifty in support as his duplicitous, greedy pal.

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