It’s not exactly a particularly seasonal thought, but 2012 might be less than fondly remembered as the year when many of our showbusiness heroes of the past were outed as, at best, sleazy letches and, at worst, sexual predators. Hurtling headlong into this terrain of older men preying upon the young and vulnerable is The Girl (BBC2, Wed 26 Dec, 9pm) in which Alfred Hitchcock is portrayed as being dangerously obsessed with one of his many iconic leading ladies, Tippi Hedren.
Straight off the bat, the drama tells us that the film has been based on ‘extensive research including interviews with Tippi Hedren and Hitchcock’s surviving cast and crew’. From the moment The Girl was shown in the US (it’s an HBO affair), many of those close to the director have tried to save Hitchcock’s memory (none more so than the SaveHitchcock website) by trashing the claims made in the movie which is based around the hiring of Hedren for The Birds and Marnie.
According to The Girl, so obsessed was Hitchcock with Hedren and put-out by her rebuttals to his clumsy advances that he put his star through the most awful torture. The physical abuse reaches its zenith when filming the more bloody scenes in The Birds and later, in doing the dastardly deed of making her remain faithful to the contract she signed.
While the film leaves a sour taste in the mouth (whether you buy the accusations or not), there are still some pleasures to be had for Hitchcock fans. Toby Jones’ performance is excellent (he’s absolutely nailed the voice) and the more eccentric aspects of his personality come through: there is a shot of him walking in that famous stuffed-vase silhouette as a crew lackey holds a parasol over his head, with the Master of Suspense spewing forth a stream of lewd limericks to keep his staff amused.
Uncle Wormsley’s Christmas
Unsavoury male characters also abound in some of this season’s kids fare. Uncle Wormsley’s Christmas (Sky Atlantic, Mon 24 Dec, 10pm) is Baby Cow’s first venture into children’s animation with Steve Coogan narrating this tale of the awful, disgusting titular uncle, a Grinch-like figure covered in his own snot who only has eyes for his pet, a massive, caged crab (called Crabsley). The crustacean feeds on the kidnapped dogs that Wormsley rounds up around town but when a pair of super-rich parents finally purchase the only thing that their spoiled brat truly desires (yes, you’ve guessed it, a massive crab) things go from icky to sickly.
Odours also virtually penetrate the screen in Mr Stink (BBC1, Sun 23 Dec, 6.30pm), the adaptation of David Walliams’ fable about being nice to those less fortunate than ourselves. Walliams plays a shifty, slick but ultimately empty PM (who can he possibly be referring to?) while Hugh Bonneville is Stink whose past life of privilege and ostentation was ended by tragedy. Johnny Vegas plays a downtrodden dad while his daughter who gives Mr Stink some shelter is an ostracised teenager, passive-aggressively picked on at school and ignored by her wannabe Thatcher-esque politician mother, Sheridan Smith. There are so many admirable messages underpinning it all, that Walliams and his adaptors have forgotten that kids also like to have a laugh sometimes.
Room on the Broom
When adapting a novel for the screen, the usual dilemma is what to leave out and hope that it retains the original’s spirit. When it comes to a children’s picture book, the problem is reversed. With Julia Donaldson’s Room on the Broom (BBC1, Tue 25 Dec, 4.35pm), how could a story that might be raced through in anything between one to four minutes (depending on the reading parent’s level of stress/fatigue/desperate need to watch the Champions League) be credibly stretched to 25 minutes of airtime? Of course, something has to be done to justify hiring the voices of Gillian Anderson, Rob Brydon, Timothy Spall and Simon Pegg (to name just four of the massive celebs featured) but it really does test the patience on trudging its way to an admittedly satisfying finale.
The Snowman and the Snowdog
Other than the traditional Doctor Who treat (or anti-climax, depending on which geek you listen to), the most anticipated broadcast of the festive period has to be The Snowman and The Snowdog (Channel 4, Mon 24 Dec, 8pm). It’s possible that some eyes which witnessed the original Raymond Briggs/Aled Jones/Dave Bowie and his scarf affair of 1982 might have dried by now, but a whole new generation of tears are preparing to be massively jerked with this new 23-minute film.
However, it turns out that whole thing is a massive let-down. You can’t not help but compare like for like, so the new in-flight X-Factory ‘song’ can’t hold a candle to ‘Walking in the Air’ while the element of surprise as the storyline develops has obviously gone. The only plus point for this one is the unbearable cuteness of the titular pooch. They really should have just let sleeping snowdogs lie.
Bag of Bones
Pierce Brosnan largely sleepwalks his way through two parts of the adaptation of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones (Five, Sat 29 Dec, 9.10pm)*2, an all-too familiar King-like tale of Mike Noonan, a functioning alcoholic writer going through a traumatic life-change. In this instance, it’s the sudden death of his wife who traditionally helped him write the final sentence of each of his bestselling books. As Noonan tries to get over his inevitable block, he escapes to the isolated and thoroughly spooky lodge that his wife spent much of her time in while he laboured over his fiction. His fears that she might have been conducting an affair are assuaged in a mire of a dead woman’s curse, a talking tree and the guy who used to be Max Headroom. Meanwhile, Doors Open (ITV1, Thu 27 Dec, 9pm) is a reasonably watchable two-hour re-tread of a non-Rebus Rankin novel about an unlikely gang of art thieves, featuring Stephen Fry, Douglas Henshall and a very gothic-looking Edinburgh.
No festive season would be complete without a documentary about people pretending to be Father Christmas. Bad Santas (Channel 4, Mon 17 Dec, 9pm) takes us into the corridors of the Ministry of Fun, an establishment which employs many of the country’s finest grotto Clauses, all of whom have gone through the strict and terrifying Santa School. This year, the Ministry has decided that they will try something a bit different by opening up the school to give a second chance to some of life’s outsiders (the long-term unemployed, the homeless and some former criminals). But will any of these non-actors be up to the job of portraying a plausible Santa? As you’d imagine, the two-part documentary is a bitter-sweet journey for the quintet who make the shortlist, as the men try to turn their lives around.
Friday Night Dinner
While the likes of Morecambe & Wise and the Two Ronnies remain the Christmas comedy benchmark for many, the new breed simply write a new episode of their usual sitcom and set it on Christmas Day. Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4, Mon 24 Dec, 10.30pm) is a predictable romp in which the Goodman family worry about whether they should really be marking Christmas so enthusiastically given their whole Jewish thing. Two warring grandmothers and a pair of canines do their utmost to ruin the party while Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal seek to out-gross each other on a minute-by-minute basis. Mark Heap steals the show as per usual with the kind of unhinged oddball he has perfected down the years in the likes of Jam, Big Train and Spaced. A brand new series of Miranda (BBC1, Wed 26 Dec, 9pm) kicks off where the last one wound up with Ms Hart either falling over in public or having her clothes ripped or soaked in embarrassing social situations, all the while trying to get through another Christmas period without humiliating herself further. She fails, quite hilariously.
In terms of modern British comedy, The Office Christmas two-parter is still a jewel in the festive crown, and the American version (Comedy Central, Wed 19 Dec, 10pm) uses this time of year to bring the curtain down on Michael Scott (Steve Carell), their show’s ‘David Brent’. Having simultaneously outraged and amused his colleagues with the Dundie awards (‘not as mean as the Golden Globes’: cue postmodern nudge and wink), Scott is now attempting to flee the office a day before his scheduled departure leaving a fragile Deangelo Vickers (Will Ferrell) in charge. With such comedic heavyweights spearheading its cast, the show couldn’t help but amuse and even after seven seasons, it still feels fresh. Its ultimate success is in making the British viewer long to see David Brent make a fool of himself in an entirely different set of scripted scenarios.