24 films to watch on TV this Christmas, 2022

Time to plot your sofa schedule...

19 December 2022

By David Parkinson

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Christmas isn’t a time for experimentation when it comes to films on television. When people sit down with an eggnog and a mince pie, they expect to find the schedules stuffed with premieres and classics. And 2022 doesn’t disappoint.

Yet, a quick glance through the Radio Times reveals that there isn’t the room there used to be for those yesteryear favourites that the family watched together. Amid the schmaltzy Yuletide teleplays and identikit CGI kidpix, however, there are still various versions of A Christmas Carol on offer, as well as the obligatory Second World War adventures, ancient world epics, Hollywood musicals, Agatha Christie adaptations, and blockbusters featuring DeLoreans and NYPD cops in white vests.    

Might we also point you in the direction of the following…

Destry Rides Again (1939)

When’s it on? Wednesday 21 December, 3:35pm, TCM

Destry Rides Again (1939)

James Stewart would transform the western in the 1950s with director Anthony Mann. But his first entry in the genre is a rollicking rehash of a Max Brand novel that pits his pacifist deputy against Bottleneck saloon chanteuse Marlene Dietrich and her murderous boss, Brian Donlevy. Splendid songs, bar scraps and supporting cast.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

When’s it on? Wednesday 21 December, 10:30pm, BBC Two

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Showing ahead of BBC Four re-airing the five-hour Alec Guinness version of John Le Carré’s spy classic, Swede Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 adaptation retains the bleak authenticity while imparting a little outsider irony. The revelation of the mole inside the Cambridge Circus HQ feels somewhat prosaic, but the twists leading to it are dizzyingly involving. 

The African Queen (1951)

When’s it on? Thursday 22 December, 1:50pm, BBC Two

The African Queen (1951)

Humphrey Bogart won his only Oscar playing the soused steamboat skipper ferrying Katharine Hepburn’s prim missionary to safety in John Huston’s gruffly witty Technicolor take on C.S. Forester’s First World War adventure. It’s showing in an inspired double bill with Michael Curtiz’s masterly wartime saga Casablanca, which marks its 80th anniversary this winter.

Bush Christmas (1947)

When’s it on? Friday 23 December, 12:40pm, Talking Pictures TV

Bush Christmas (1947)

Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Ralph Smart’s 1947 festive adventure helped establish what would become the Children’s Film Foundation. In a rare villainous role, Chips Rafferty steals a valuable foal with his bushwhacker buddies, only to be pursued to a ghost town by a group of intrepid kids led by a resourceful Aboriginal boy.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

When’s it on? Friday 23 December, 4:40pm, TCM 

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

Americana MGM-style, as Sally Benson’s New Yorker stories are given the full Technicolor treatment by director Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed. Judy Garland glows as one of the five Gilded Age siblings facing the prospect of having to move to New York. The rendition of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ will melt the Scroogiest heart. 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

When’s it on? Saturday 24 December, 1:25pm, Channel 5

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

Thirty-five years on, the tortuous progress of Chicago-bound Neal Page (Steve Martin) remains squirmingly amusing, as his bid to beat Thanksgiving transport chaos is complicated at every turn by unwanted travelling companion Del Griffith (John Candy). What’s the betting you laugh so much you wind up ordering the new 4K version containing 75 minutes of previously unseen footage?

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

When’s it on? Saturday 24 December, 1:25pm, Channel 4

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Of course, you may have seen Frank Capra’s cornball confection before. But would it really be Christmas unless you stopped off in Bedford Falls to see how angel Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) takes crestfallen George Bailey (James Stewart) on a sentimental journey in order to restore his faith in humanity? After this torrid year, it’s more unmissable than ever.

North by Northwest (1959)

When’s it on? Saturday 24 December, 1:40pm, BBC Two

North by Northwest (1959)
Stills courtesy Park Circus/Warner Bros

Dredging up an old idea about a scene atop Mount Rushmore in order to beat a bout of creative block, Alfred Hitchcock conspired with writer Ernest Lehman to spoof his entire oeuvre in this gleefully far-fetched thriller. Cary Grant’s wrong man is the epitome of suave bemusement, while James Mason takes urbane villainy to new levels of fiendishness.

MASH (1970) 

When’s it on? Saturday 24 December, 11:45pm, Great Movies

MASH (1970)

Set in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean war, this 1970 countercultural classic is very much a product and reflection of its time. So, expect some of the humour to grate. But, in taking top prize at Cannes, Robert Altman refined his trademark directorial style while chronicling the antics of three maverick surgeons.   

The Great Escape (1963)

When’s it on? Sunday 25 December, 1:50pm, Channel 4

The Great Escape (1963)

One of those war films that lures you in no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. John Sturges’ 1963 adaptation of Paul Brickhill’s factual bestseller about Stalag Luft III boasts a stellar ensemble and an Elmer Bernstein theme that will out-earworm all those Christmas songs. Caperish, but also a sombre reminder of sacrifices made and lives lost.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

When’s it on? Sunday 25 December, 3:10pm, BBC Two 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Sixty years have passed since Marilyn Monroe died, yet she continues to light up the screen. By following Howard Hawks’ 1953 take on Anita Loos’ Jazz Age classic with Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), the BBC enables us to contrast the Marilyns who played Lorelei Lee and Sugar Kane. It’s a bittersweet treat.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

When’s it on? Monday 26 December, 9:35am, Channel 5 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Double delight for Audrey Hepburn fans, as Blake Edwards’ 1961 adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella is followed by My Fair Lady (1964). Try watching them bearing in mind that Holly Golightly was inspired by Marilyn Monroe and Eliza Doolittle was created on stage by Julie Andrews. Yet, the mere mention of the characters conjures up Audrey.

Mary Poppins (1964)

When’s it on? Monday 26 December, 2:25pm, BBC One 

Mary Poppins (1964)

Speaking of Julie Andrews, she won the Oscar for best actress in this Disneyfication of the novels of P.L. Travers. Cynics might carp at the whimsy, but the blend of live-action and animation was cutting edge in 1964 and has more charm than the digitised effects in Mary Poppins Returns (showing on BBC One on 1 January).

Goodfellas (1990)

When’s it on? Monday 26 December, 10:15pm, BBC Two

Goodfellas (1990)

The late Ray Liotta gives the best performance of his career in Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s biography of New York mobster Henry Hill. Encouraging his cast to improvise and keeping the camera moving, Scorsese took the best director prize at Venice, while Joe Pesci won the best supporting Oscar. Robert De Niro’s not bad either. 

1917 (2019)

When’s it on? Tuesday 27 December, 9pm, BBC One

1917 (2019)

Inspired by the experiences of director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, this propulsive tale of two First World War messengers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) was meticulously choreographed with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins to give the impression it was shot in two continuous takes. There’s fun for all the family spotting what editor Lee Smith called the “secret squirrel editing”.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

When’s it on? Wednesday 28 December, 1:50am, Channel 4

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

It’s often forgotten that 1950s gimmick king William Castle produced this chilling adaptation of Ira Levin’s novel about a Manhattan woman carrying Satan’s son. Making his Hollywood debut, director Roman Polanski wanted fiancée Sharon Tate for the lead. But, in only her third feature, Mia Farrow excels alongside scene-stealing veterans Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer and Ralph Bellamy.

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018)

When’s it on? Wednesday 28 December, 4:05am, Sky Arts

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018)

Over the holidays, Sky Arts is showing acclaimed documentaries about The Beatles, The Bee Gees and Tina Turner. But the pick is Sophie Huber’s history of the eponymous jazz record label, which makes atmospheric use of diverse audiovisual artefacts to recall the bebop heyday of, among others, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. A sublime musical education.

The Thing (1982)

When’s it on? Friday 30 December, 9pm, Legend

The Thing (1982)

Echoes of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None can be detected in John Carpenter’s take on John W. Campbell’s novella, Who Goes There?, about an assimilative extraterrestrial life-form running amok at an Antarctic research station. Rob Bottin’s special effects are masterpieces of ingenuity, but what makes this so compelling is the creeping sense of paranoia.

Get Out (2017)

When’s it on? Friday 30 December, 10pm, E4

Get Out (2017)

Debuting director Jordan Peele received three Oscar nominations for this lacerating racial satire, winning for a screenplay that pitches African American photographer Daniel Kaluuya into a white liberal hell populated by girlfriend Allison Williams and her parents, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. It’s more unsettling than scary. But, make no mistake, this is horror at its most insidiously provocative.

The Red Turtle (2016)

When’s it on? Saturday 31 December, 11:30am, Film4

The Red Turtle (2016)

The most exquisite thing showing on television this Christmas, Dutch director Michaël Dudok de Wit’s castaway fable was co-produced by Japan’s Studio Ghibli. There’s an all-embracing universality about this Oscar-nominated saga, which invokes the spirit of silent cinema in reminding us of both the fragile beauty of nature and what love is all about.

Inside Out (2015)

When’s it on? Saturday 31 December, 2:50pm, BBC One

Inside Out (2015)

Pixar proves again that animation is wasted on kids with this wittily wise treatise on human emotion. Those of a certain vintage will be reminded of The Numskulls comic-strip from The Beezer. But the way in which Joy and Sadness help 11-year-old Riley negotiate life’s vicissitudes is a triumph of imaginative intelligence and digital dexterity.

Stan & Ollie (2018)

When’s it on? Saturday 31 December, 10:40pm, BBC Four

Stan & Ollie (2018)
Amy Spinks

For all the slapstick hilarity, pathos was never far from the surface in the films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly expertly capture the duo’s delicate dynamic in this affectionate chronicle of their 1953 music-hall tour of Britain. Wives Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson are equally acute.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

When’s it on? Sunday 1 January, 1:15pm, Channel 5

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Talkies were only 25 years old when MGM made this nostalgic musical masterpiece, which marked its 70th anniversary by coming 10th in the latest Sight and Sound Greatest Films poll. To gauge how much star Gene Kelly relied on co-director Stanley Donen, catch his solo outing, Hello, Dolly! (1969), on BBC Two on 27 December.

No Time to Die (2021)

When’s it on? Sunday 1 January, 8pm,  ITV1

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to Die (2021)
Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to Die (2021)
Universal Pictures

With Daniel Craig’s 007 licence now revoked, ITV has lined up Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015) to herald the network premiere of his fifth and final outing. The plot is satisfyingly convoluted, the action preposterously spectacular. Just what we all need to forget our own crazy world for a couple of hours.

BFI Player logo

See something different

Free for 14 days, then £4.99/month or £49/year.

Get 14 days free