TV - Remote Control: Christmas TV
Brian Donaldson finds some spooky dramas and heart-warming animations doing the Yuletide rounds
Christmas is a time when TV goes mad for the long-awaited comeback. Alongside Rab C, Vic ‘n’ Bob and Stanley Baxter in making a welcome return is Alan Davies’ duffle-coated sleuth with Jonathan Creek: The Grinning Man (BBC1, Thu 1 Jan, 9pm ●●●●). And surprisingly splendid festive fare it is too, in this seemingly familiar case of things going horribly wrong down the ages in a locked room within a sprawling ghostly mansion called Metropolis. The twists and resolutions were, to this watcher at least, as well hidden as Davies’ ears underneath that shaggy bonce. There are more supernatural goings-on in Affinity (ITV1, Sun 28 Dec, 9pm ●●●), a decent adaptation of Sarah Waters’ chiller about a posh woman taking a fancy to an imprisoned medium whose link to a mysterious spirit named Peter Quick isn’t all that it seems. With Crooked House (BBC4, Mon 22–Wed 24 Dec, 10.30pm ●●●), Mark Gatiss has concocted a three-part ghost story about another sinister country house and betrays his love of the Amicus portmanteau horrors of the 60s and 70s. Quality-wise, two out of three isn’t bad.
Not spooky but no less affecting a story is The Diary of Anne Frank (BBC1, Mon 5 Jan, 7pm ●●●●) which runs over five consecutive evenings and does the traditional festive job of making people feel simultaneously guilty about over-indulging and relieved to be free enough to continue stuffing themselves. Not so lucky were the Franks, who holed themselves up in an Amsterdam attic for two years while the Nazis rounded up European Jews and dragged them off to an awful fate. Newcomer Ellie Kendrick plays the iconic diary-dabbler as a rather niggly and unsympathetic (thus utterly human) young girl whose fraught relationship with her mum (Tamsin Greig) was in direct contrast to that with her father Otto (Iain Glen), the only of the hiders to survive the concentration camps, eventually dying in 1980. And just because you know the ending doesn’t make their eventual capture any less traumatic in its reconstruction.
In terms of finales, The 39 Steps (BBC1, Sun 28 Dec, 8pm ●●●) has had its fair share, whether involving a memory man on stage about to reveal a dark secret before being shot or Robert Powell swinging from Big Ben to prevent a bomb going off when it strikes 11.45am. In this thrilling TV version, Rupert Penry-Jones plays Richard Hannay as he seeks to flee from the goodies and baddies who are both after him and the suffragette he has inadvertently enlisted while on the run.
But it’s not all scary monsters and super creeps, as cuddly old Jim Broadbent does the narrative duties on Lost and Found (Channel 4, Wed 24 Dec, 2.30pm ●●●), a heart-embracing animated tale of a young lad whose day is interrupted by a penguin on his doorstep, having seemingly taken a wrong turning out of Antarctica. By now a standard feature of the Christmas Day fun, Aardman’s best-known dog/man semi-dynamic duo return with their latest punsome half-hour Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (BBC1, Thu 25 Dec, 8.30pm●●●). In this one, Wallace takes a step back from his cheese obsession to run the Top Bun bakery, when it comes to Gromit’s attention (naturally his owner is about eight steps behind) that someone is bumping off the area’s bread merchants with prime suspect Piella Bakewell suddenly becoming very friendly with Wallace.
As ever, the devil is right there in the detail with visual and verbal puns flying around like dog hairs at a Crufts aftershow party, adults and kids alike laughing at the same jokes for very different reasons. At a time of year when many people kick back and do next to nothing, it’s gratifying to know that Aardman Animations are still putting the effort in.