Christmas TV guide: Great movies and shows for you to watch over the next few days

Choose from a selection box of old staples such as It’s A Wonderful Life and The Big Sleep and modern marvels such as Wolfwalkers and May December


December 23rd

Wolfwalkers (2020)

RTÉ2, 1.40pm

Cartoon Saloon has developed into a phenomenon in the Irish entertainment industry over the past decade and a half. This historical drama is among the most visceral and dynamic of the studio’s animations. It is set in Kilkenny during the Cromwellian massacres and finds a young girl communing with the wolves who circle her busy village. Beautifully designed.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Channel 4, 4.30pm

Everyone is required at least one viewing of Frank Capra’s classic fable before the season is out. Like all the best traditional Christmas films, it draws from the template of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. But it is nice George Bailey, rather than horrid Mr Potter, who passes through the Scrooge arc.

The Big Sleep (1946)

BBC2, 1.05pm

Howard Hawks’s fast-talking take on Raymond Chandler’s novel is famously so densely plotted that even the author couldn’t follow it. No matter. What we have here is a grey-black comedy with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall at their fiery, disputatious best.

Celine Byrne’s Christmas Selection Box

RTÉ One, 8.25pm

She’s an internationally renowned singer who has starred in many a big opera production, but this is Celine Byrne’s first time presenting a TV show for RTÉ, and she’s got some musical treats in store to get you in the festive mood. Byrne digs in to the RTÉ archives to pull out classic Christmas performances by the likes of Sinéad O’Connor, Andrea Corr and Johnny Logan, plus a few nuggets featuring Byrne herself. There’ll be sumptuous duets of seasonal classics by Jack L and Shobsy and Mick Flannery and Susan O’Neill, plus traditional carols by the choir of St Patrick’s Cathedral and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.


Christmas with Katherine Jenkins

BBC Two, 7.10pm

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with Britain’s biggest-selling (and most glamorous) classical artist of the century? In this seasonal special, Katherine Jenkins returns home to Wales for the holidays, and sure she might as well book the Swansea Arena and put on a big festive musical extravaganza while she’s there. Jenkins will perform some of her own biggest hits, plus plenty of favourite Christmas carols. She’ll be joined onstage by some star guests, including Welsh actor Michael Sheen and singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti, plus a 31-piece band conducted by Ken Burton. Nadolig Llawen, as they say round these parts.

Christmas Eve

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

TG4, 10am

George Cukor’s high-society comedy (indeed, the inspiration for High Society) brings three of the greatest Hollywood legends together for a festival of squabbling. Katharine Hepburn is the exhaustingly stroppy Tracy Lord. Cary Grant is her suave ex. Jimmy Stewart is a reporter assigned to cover Lord’s remarriage. Every line crackles.

The Godfather (1972)

RTÉ1, 12.10am

You know what this is. More than 50 years after its premiere, Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic – also a wry comment on the American dream – has aged not a single day. Marlon Brando technically has the title role, but it is Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone who traces the path to well-healed damnation. The even-better sequel is on the same channel a day later.

No Time to Die (2021)

RTÉ1, 8pm

Christmas time is Bond time. You will find a few of the Daniel Craig adventures scattered across the schedules this season. Savour them. It has been more than two years since the Chester man bowed out of the part, but we have yet to hear who his replacement will be. The swansong is a little overlong, but it ends brilliantly. No spoilers.

Mog’s Christmas

Channel 4, 7.45pm

Mischievous house cat Mog returns for an animated Christmas special, featuring the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Miriam Margolyes and Charlie Higson. It’s the same animation team behind the charming The Tiger Who Came to Tea, so expect some festive magic. The Thomas family are busy with preparations for Christmas, but Mog is feeling a bit left out, and when a great big scary Christmas tree moves into view, Mog bolts for the roof, where she falls into a festive feline dream.

The Heist Before Christmas

Sky Max and Now, 8pm

James Nesbitt and Timothy Spall play Santa in this festive Sky original, but which is the real Santa and which is the bank robber disguised as Mr Claus? When 12-year-old Belfast kid Mikey and his little brother Seán come across the two Santas lying unconscious in the woods, they don’t know what to believe. One has a sackful of stolen cash, the other claims have fallen out of his sleigh. But Mikey’s not interested in all that Santa stuff – he just wants to get his hands on that cold, hard cash and turn his family’s fortunes around for Christmas. Needless to say, Mikey will soon learn a valuable lesson about the real spirit of Christmas

The Great Christmas Bake Off

Channel 4, 8.15pm

Is that a cloud of baking powder in the Bake Off kitchen, or is it the ghosts of Bake Offs past, materialising again for this Christmas special of the world’s most popular baking show? Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith feel no fear, though, as they welcome back contestants from previous series of Bake Off – one baker for each year the show has been on Channel 4 – to take part in a big, festive edition of the baking challenge. Sophie, Dan, Amelia, Linda, George and Carole will get another chance to showcase their souffle skills and icing expertise, and the cake celebrations will end with a special performance from the Citizens of the World Choir.

A Ghost Story for Christmas: Lot 249

BBC Two, 10pm

Mark Gatiss has woven some macabre tales as part of The League of Gentlemen, and as a writer for Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. Here he adapts a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, and it stars none other than Jon Snow himself – Kit Harington – who plays young Victorian academic Abercrombie Smith, with Colin Ryan and Freddie Fox as his colleagues Monkhouse Lee and Edward Bellingham. The story involves ancient Egypt, arcane experiments and a scary sack of bones known as Lot 249. You know where this is going.

Christmas Day

Call the Midwife Christmas Special

BBC One, 8.15pm

It’s the 12th festive edition of the evergreen drama, and the series has been going up through the decades for so long that we must be at the year 2100 by now. Actually, it’s 1968, and Apollo 8 is about to go into orbit around the moon. Don’t worry, none of the nurses or midwives of Nonnatus House are on board – they’re getting ready for Christmas, but Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) is worried she’ll not see another Christmas, never mind seeing a man walk on the moon. Meanwhile, Shelagh (Laura Main) is unsettled by the arrival of a parcel from Hong Kong and asks Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) for advice.

Mrs Brown’s Boys: Mammy’s Mare

RTÉ One, 9pm

Now admit it: it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a Mrs Brown’s Boys festive special, and Brendan O’Carroll and the gang are back for more seasonal argy-bargy, and they’ve brought a sackful of gags that you wouldn’t find in any Christmas crackers. This year, though, Mammy’s going Zen, and planning a nice, quiet Christmas in Finglas without all the usual chaos and mayhem. But the family will soon sabotage that one, as Cathy decides to cook Christmas dinner, a treasured decoration goes missing and a surprise guest turns up.

Grace Kelly: Banphríonsa Mhaigh Eo

TG4, 9.30pm

Here’s a true-life fairy-tale for Christmas, the story of how a young woman from Philadelphia with Irish roots became a celebrated Hollywood actor, then married a European prince and lived a life of luxury and privilege until the fairy-tale ended in a car crash when she was just 52. This documentary looks back on Grace Kelly’s extraordinary life as a famously reclusive film star, a fashion icon and a real-life princess, and looks at how she connected with her Irish ancestry during many high-profile visits to Ireland. The programme features exclusive interviews with her son, Prince Albert II, plus lots of incredible archive material from Kelly’s own collection.

Caroline Aherne: Queen of Comedy

BBC Two, 10.25pm

A host of comedy greats come out in force to celebrate the life of the brilliant Caroline Aherne, creator of classic series The Royle Family and The Mrs Merton Show, who died of cancer in 2016. As chatshow host Mrs Merton, Aherne took many a big star into the discomfort zone, like when she asked Debbie McGee: “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” Steve Coogan, John Thompson and Royle Family co-writer Craig Cash are among the guests who recall Aherne’s life and times, from breaking through on Manchester’s alternative comedy circuit to becoming one of TV comedy’s greatest stars.

Belfast (2021)

RTÉ1, 9.35pm

There has been much difference of opinion as to the worth of Kenneth Branagh’s damp-eyed look back at the city of his birth. It’s a bit sentimental. Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe, as the young protagonists’ parents, may be a little too good-looking even for an idealisation. But it ultimately proves irresistible.

Róise & Frank (2022)

TG4, 8pm

Last year, as An Cailín Ciúin was making its triumphant march to an Oscar nomination, another Irish-language film was delighting fans wherever it landed. Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy’s easy-going comedy concerns a widow who believes her late husband has returned as a dog. Fine performances from all humans and canines.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

RTÉ1, 2.40pm

Easy to forget that Walt Disney Animation went through a fallow period in the 1970s and 1980s. It came hurtling back with – as it transpired – the first animated film ever to get a best picture nomination at the Oscars. Wonderful songs. Gorgeous visuals. Maybe not bettered until Frozen in 2013.

St Stephen’s Day

The Great Escape (1963)

RTÉ2, 3.20pm

An utterly perfect entertainment that, just 20 years after the events depicted, was already happy to deal in myth and reinventions. The escape was largely a British story, but, industry economics being what they then were, Steve McQueen was allowed to boss the groaning cast of greats. Another Christmas staple.

Brief Encounter (1945)

BBC2, 12.45pm

“I want to die. If only I could die... ” People were once a bit snarky about this purse-mouthed, doomed romance set around an anonymous suburban railway station. Few now deny it is among the most scalding treatments of romantic self-denial. Trevor Howard is great, but Celia Johnson is on another plane.

Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers

RTÉ2, 10.50am

Fans argue over which is the best of the opening Wallace & Gromit trilogy, but it feels as if everything comes together in the glorious second film. For all the eponymous duo’s charm, it is sinister penguin Feathers McGraw who steals the show. Not just evil, but deeply irritating.

Gael Linn ag 70

TG4, 8pm

No record label has done more to revive and promote Irish traditional music than Gael-Linn, and to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding, a host of stars including Moya Brennan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Colm Mac Con Iomaire gather for an evening of music and song. Since it was set up in 1953, Gael Linn has been central to the revival of Irish language and culture, and has played a key role in keeping Irish music in tune with the times, so this will be a thoroughly contemporary celebration of a transformative imprint.

Mad About the Boy: The Noel Coward Story

BBC Two, 9pm

He was a London boy who went on to become a huge star of Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley, and this documentary celebrates the extraordinary life, and often controversial times, of the man known to many as The Master. Using Noel Coward’s own words and home movies, the film follows his journey from nine-year-old extrovert to spy during the second World War, to then becoming the world’s highest-paid writer by age 30, and how he navigated a straight world as a gay man. Alan Cumming narrates, with Rupert Everett as the voice of Coward, and appearances from the likes of Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Harold Pinter, Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, Michael Caine and Lucille Ball.

Death in Paradise Christmas Special

BBC One, 9pm

It’s Christmas on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint-Marie, but there’s no rest for Detective Inspector Neville Parker (Ralf Little). A local entrepreneur has been found dead in a ravine, and Parker must try to crack the case. However, his investigations are disrupted by the arrival of his larger-than-life mum, Melanie (Doon Mackichan), who makes it her mission to sort out her son’s love life and whip up a little festive fun. Guests on this special episode include Patsy Kensit, Geoff Bell and Leila Khan.

The 2 Johnnies Late Night Lock-in Best Bits

RTÉ2, 10pm

Strap yourself into the sleigh – the Tipperary twosome of Johnny B and Johnny Smacks are taking us on a trip back to their local to relive some of the best bits from their Late Night Lock-In, and remind us of all the shenanigans they got up to over the last series. There’ll be choice clips featuring guests such as Louis Walsh, Kimberly Wyatt, Conor Moore, Una Healy and Roz Purcell, and madcap moments you’ll definitely want to see again, including an acrobatic drinking contest, an Irish dancing challenge, and of course the Parish Quiz. It’s all shot through with the lads’ typical Tipp humour. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and of course you’ll hurl.

December 27th

The Towering Inferno (1974)

RTÉ1, 8.35am

Never forget that, during Hollywood’s fabled 1970s, the era of The Godfather and Chinatown, audiences still flocked in vast numbers to broad disaster movies. The Towering Inferno marked the genre’s moment of maximum dominance. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman head a cast of superstars trying to avoid going on fire. A great deal of fun.

Cloch le Carn: Christy Dignam

RTÉ One, 6.30pm

It’s been a year in which we’ve lost some of our best-loved local musical heroes, and this hour-long documentary celebrates the life and work of Aslan singer Christy Dignam, who died in June after a long illness. The programme touches on Dignam’s spirituality, and hears how he inspired people with his honesty, integrity and simple philosophy of life, and how he earned a loyal fan base through his musical talent. As well as a hugely admired singer and frontman, Dignam was a devoted husband and father, and his wife, Kathryn, and daughter Keira give their very personal recollections of life with Christy.

Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy

BBC One, 9pm

We can’t get enough of new Agatha Christie adaptations, with Kenneth Branagh playing Poirot again in his latest big-screen outing A Haunting in Venice. The BBC have pulled out all the stops for this two-part adaptation, and brought in an all-star cast that includes David Johsson, Morfydd Clark, Penelope Wilton, Douglas Henshaw, Mark Bonnar and Matthew Baynton. There’s a killer at large in the little English village of Wychwood-under-Ashe – or so local resident Miss Pinkerton tells detective Luke Fitzwilliam, who soon finds himself investigating a series of seemingly accidental deaths.

Ann (2022)

Virgin Media 1, 10pm

It is worth setting aside the fluff for a moment to appreciate this intelligent treatment of the last day in the life of Ann Lovett. The film is not perfect, but Zara Devlin triumphs quietly as the Co Longford girl who, nearly 40 years ago, died in a grotto after giving birth. Ciarán Creagh’s picture is respectful and disciplined.

Grease (1978)

RTÉ1, 3.40pm

Is this the one that you want? Are you hopelessly devoted to it? The 1950s were only two decades away when Grease was released, but, to the kids who made it a smash, the film may as well have been set in the Elizabethan era. It still thumps with great tunes and (for all the grease) clean-cut humour.

December 28th

Inside Out (2015)

BBC1, 11.30am

You could maybe see Inside Out as the last film in Pixar’s great opening spurt. Twenty years after Toy Story, the studio regained its mojo for a philosophical comedy cast with human emotions. It is properly funny, but it also addresses genuine psychological traumas. A sequel is on the way.

Great Expectations (1946)

BBC2, 9.35am

Quite simply the best-ever big-screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’s work. The opening sequence in the gloomy churchyard sets the scene for a gripping meander through an array of incomparable grotesques. Finlay Currie is mountainous as Magwitch. Bernard Miles is touching as Joe Gargery. But Martita Hunt’s Miss Havisham steals the film. “Break his heart.”

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

BBC2, 2.30pm

A supreme piece of courtroom hokum from the great Billy Wilder. Adapted from an Agatha Christie theatrical staple, the film has short-tempered barrister Charles Laughton defending sleazy Tyrone Power in a murder trial. Marlene Dietrich has more fun than anyone as the defendant’s crafty wife.

Dawn French is a Huge Tw*t

BBC One, 10.30pm

You know those terrible gaffes you made in front of loads of people – the humiliation, the shame, the urge to crawl into a hole and die? Dawn French has had her fair share of howlers in her 40-year career as a comedian and actor, but instead of buying up all existing videos and burning them, French is sharing every excruciating detail with the audience at London’s Palladium Theatre, including her bad American accent in Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, and a toe-curling audition for the Abba movie Mamma Mia!

Give My Head Peace Christmas Special

BBC One, 10.40pm

The Hole in the Wall gangis back for this festive edition of the satirical comedy show – and it’s a double celebration, as the show is marking 25 years of pleading for cranial calm. Da, Cal, Ma, Uncle Andy, Billy and Dympna are all up to their usual aul’ tricks, along with Pastor Begbie and Sandy the Kneebreakers Barman. In Total Christmas, Andy is being a very bad Santa, while some scary Christmas ghosts visit Da.

December 29th

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Channel 4, 12.45pm

The film ends in spectacular fashion, but Spielberg’s follow-up to Jaws is most memorable for its ingenious expression of Richard Dreyfuss’s inner turmoil. Bravely leaving much unexplained, it takes us from family dinner table to the most significant moment in our planet’s history. Maybe the most Spielbergian of Spielberg’s films.

Plane Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Channel 4, 3.25pm

Not actually a Christmas film. But many watching Steve Martin and John Candy fight to get home in time for Thanksgiving will be reminded of their own recent traumas. The two rub up against one another with enough abrasion to start a forest fire.

Séamus Begley: The Bold Kerryman

RTÉ One, 6.30pm

The acclaimed accordion virtuoso Séamus Begley died in January, leaving a musical and personal legacy as deep and wide as the landscape of his native Kerry. This documentary follows Begley’s journey from west Kerry to the world’s stage, exploring his fruitful musical partnership with Australian musician Steve Cooney and his collaborations with The Waterboys, Sharon Shannon and many others. Begley’s wife, Máire, and his children Breanndán, Eoin, Niall and Méabh give an insight into Begley the family man, while musicians including Mary Black and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh discuss how he brought the music of Corca Dhuibhne to the wider world.

Callan Kicks the Year 2023

RTÉ One, 9.30pm

Oliver Callan gets his boots on and takes a swing at some of the more bizarre events of the past year in his annual comedy special showcasing his talent for taking off political and public figures at home and abroad. After a bad year for Irish sport, for RTÉ and the streets of Dublin, there’s plenty for Callan to get his Doc Martens into. Leo, Micheál and Mary Lou will of course feature prominently, but expect appearances from Vogue, Tubs, Barbie, Dáithí, Bertie and Enoch, along with a look back at Joe Biden’s gaffes, Francis Brennan’s gaff, and Marty’s parties.


Sky and Now TV subscribers

May December

Todd Haynes’s grimly comedic film, voted best film of the year by The Irish Times’ critics, Todd Haynes’s grimly comedic film about the aftermath of an abuse scandal casts Natalie Portman as an actor researching the life of ex-con Julianne Moore. Every bit as layered as you would expect from the director of Carol and Far From Heaven.



Bradley Cooper directs himself – behind the infamous false nose – in an imaginative biopic of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. There is not much insight into the music, but Carey Mulligan wins us over with a fine turn as the maestro’s long-suffering wife.

Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire

The biff, bang, wallop of Zack Snyder’s action cinema is not for everyone. But there is much to enjoy in a vast space opera that does not conceal its debt to The Seven Samurai. Charlie Hunnam’s Ulster accent is ... interesting.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget

It has taken more than 20 years for Aardman to follow up the first Chicken Run movie. This time out, the birds have to break into a poultry farm that serves the fast food industry. Some sound points about animal abuse are mixed in with the knockabout comedy.

Prime Video

Merry Little Batman

Delightful animation following Batman’s son – there is such a thing in the comics – as he seeks to protect Gotham from familiar villains. The inevitable references (Easter eggs?) do not inhibit a fine family entertainment.


The Shepherd

Unexpected, winning adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s novella – published Christmas 1975 – concerning a pilot receiving ghostly help when flying home for the festive period. Ben Radcliffe and John Travolta star.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

The latest Indiana Jones flick premiered at Cannes seven months ago to mixed reviews, but it will play well as a Big Christmas Movie. Sixties ambience. Lara Croft pastiche. And Harrison Ford at his crinkliest.