Christmas TV and film guide: 40 of the best shows and movies to watch over the next week

Including The Banshees of Inisherin, Glass Onion, Motherland, Chariots of Fire, Marie Antoinette, How Ireland Rocked the 80s, and Callan Kicks the Year

Friday, December 23rd

Celebrity MasterChef Christmas Cook-Off

BBC One, 8pm

Just what we want to see at Christmas to make us feel inadequate: a bunch of masterchefs magicking up the ultimate festive feast to put our paltry poultry efforts in the shade. There is one consolation, though: not all these celebrity chefs are as good in the kitchen as they’re cracked up to be, so chances are someone is going to have a culinary nightmare before Christmas. Eight celebs from past series have been handpicked to rise to the Christmas dinner challenge, including Happy Mondays legend Bez, athlete Iwan Thomas, pop star Josh Cuthbert and opera superstar Lesley Garrett. Kevin Courtney

Motherland: Last Christmas

BBC One, 9.30pm

Christmas is a stressful time for many, but you don’t know stress until you’ve seen the mummies of Motherland muddle through their most chaotic one yet. This series, co-written by Sharon Horgan, has raised the bar for cringe comedy, and we can guarantee that this festive special will end in madness, mayhem and mistletoe mishaps. Starring Anna Maxwell Martin and Diane Morgan, and there’s a special guest appearance by Joanna Lumley. KC

A Ghost Story for Christmas: Count Magnus

BBC Two, 10pm

The Beeb are killing it (forgive the expression) with their ghostly December programming this year – a new run of Inside No 9 and now this, Mark Gatiss’s latest MR James adaptation. The year is 1863, and Mr Wraxhall (Jason Watkins) becomes fascinated by a long-dead Swedish nobleman who once made a strange journey to the Holy Land – on unholy business. KC

The Banshees of Inisherin

Disney+, streaming

You know what this is. Already shaping up to be a huge player at the Oscars, Martin McDonagh’s winning rural comedy stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as old friends who fall out inexplicably during the Civil War. Yes, as a (once Fox) Searchlight film, its streaming home is now with Bambi and The Love Bug. DC


Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Netflix, streaming

For some bizarre reason, Netflix decided, a month ago, to release the sequel to Knives Out in cinemas for just one week. Anyway, it arrives on the service just in time for Christmas. This time, Daniel Craig’s oddball southern sleuth is cast among the awful super-rich on a remote island. Janelle Monáe is the standout among a packed supporting cast. DC

Christmas Eve

North by Northwest

BBC Two, 1.40pm

There is always a smattering of Hitchcock classics about the schedules at Christmas. None is more entertainingly propulsive than this McGuffin-heavy chase across the United States, from 1959, with Cary Grant as one the master’s great wrongly implicated saps. Features the crop-duster scene, the Mount Rushmore evasion and a crisply dressed Eva-Marie Saint. Donald Clarke

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

BBC One, 4.55pm

Charlie Mackesy’s illustrated children’s book has captured the hearts of millions of readers both young and old with its simple message of friendship, kindness and conquering fear. Now, Mackesy directs the animated version of the beloved book, so settle down with the whole family for this story of an unlikely fellowship united in the search for home. To get you ready for this heartwarming Christmas special, Charlie Mackesy: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse and Me (BBC Two, 3.55pm) tells the story of the author and illustrator’s formative years growing up on a farm in rural England and the life events that fired his imagination. KC

Chariots of Fire

BBC Two, 4.55pm

It’s not so well known now that this classic’s win at the Oscars was seen as a huge upset. The nostalgic tale of two differently honourable men competing at the 1924 Olympics has weathered the years well since it was first released, in 1981. Vangelis’s score is still unavoidable. The cameos from John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson are delightful. “Do they say he can run?” one asks. “Like the wind.” DC

Christmas in Ireland with Imelda May and Friends

Sky Arts and Now, 9.30pm

If you can’t make it home for Christmas, don’t worry – Imelda May has gathered a bunch of her musical friends together for a Celtic-themed Christmas concert that’s sure to make you feel right at home wherever you are. Ireland’s queen of the blues will be joined onstage at the Pepper Canister Church in Dublin by Glen Hansard, Jack L, Loah and Hawke the Band for a run-through of some seasonal favourites – heavily seasoned with Irish flavours. Sharon Corr will recite a Patrick Kavanagh poem, while John Sheahan from The Dubliners will be joined onstage by his daughter Ceoladh for a rendition of the Marino Waltz. KC

Christmas Day

Miracle on 34th Street

TG4, 12.40pm

What do you mean “which version?”? There is only one version that matters of this classic Christmas yarn concerning a department-store Santa who just might be the real thing. Fun fact: the Catholic Legion of Decency rated this 1947 film “morally objectionable in part” – largely because our own Maureen O’Hara played a divorcee. Parental guidance advised. DC

The Great Escape

Channel 4, 1.50pm

Released in 1963, the daddy of escape movies has been a Christmas TV staple since, oh, around 1968 or so. An impeccable cast of contrasting actors contrives to frustrate the Jerrys and make it across the nearest border. Steve McQueen hogs attention, but no sequences are so moving as those between James Garner’s scrounger and Donald Pleasence’s blind forger. DC

Mrs Brown’s Boys

RTÉ One, 9.25pm

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to the mythical land of Finglas, where Agnes Brown and her brood are getting ready for the season that’s in it. But wait – there are creepy Stephen King-type twins in the house, and instead of Santa, there may be a vampire flying about – has Brendan O’Carroll accidentally done a Halloween special? All will be made clear in the first of two festive specials. Expect the usual ribald humour and Dublin vernacular as Cathy gets a new boyfriend, widower Boris, and Agnes has to babysit his twin daughters while they go to Foley’s for some Christmas cheer. This could be a nightmare before Christmas. KC

Catch Me if You Can

Channel 4, 10.55pm

As we await the arrival of Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, revel in a contender for the great man’s best film this century, from 2002. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale jnr, a serial fraudster who led the FBI on a merry dance throughout the 1960s. A beautiful evocation of a lost era. Lovely support from Christopher Walken as the protagonist’s dad. DC

Cyril Cusack: Lár an Stáitse

TG4, 9.30pm

Before Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, Cyril Cusack was Hollywood’s most famous Irishman, starring in such classic films as The Day of the Jackal, Fahrenheit 451, Harold and Maude and 1984, and working with such legends as James Mason and Richard Burton. He also headed up an acting dynasty that includes his daughters Sinéad, Sorcha, Niamh and Catherine. This documentary film looks back on Cusack’s 75-year film and stage career, with contributions from all of his children, along with his son-in-law Jeremy Irons, actors Stephen Rea and Bríd Ní Neachtain, and directors Bob Quinn and Jim Sheridan. KC

St Stephen’s Day


RTÉ2, 3.15pm

The best James Bond, from 1964, is right there on St Stephen’s Day. Yes, really. Sean Connery is the supreme 007. Gert Fröbe gives great baddy. Shirley Bassey’s vowels can be heard all the way from Tiger Bay to Fort Knox. “There are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ‘53 above 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs!” Ha ha! DC

A Note for Nature

RTÉ One, 6.25pm

Take a musical journey around Ireland’s wilderness without leaving the comfort of your couch, but be mindful that the natural beauty on display here is in a precarious state. A Note for Nature is both a celebration of Ireland’s wild landscape and a dire warning that if something isn’t done now, all this wild wonder will disappear. The programme features input from leading conservationists, and stunning footage accompanied by a haunting soundtrack featuring songs from Christy Moore, Clare Sands and Susan O’Neill, Niamh Regan, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Iarla Ó Lionáird and Tolü Makay. KC

Detectorists Special

BBC Two, 9pm

Anyone who has stumbled on the hidden treasure that is Detectorists will rejoice at the return of Andy and Lance and the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, in this feature-length episode. Its creator, director and star Mackenzie Crook has gathered the gang back together, including Toby Jones as Lance and Rachael Stirling as Becky, having left them all in “a good place” at the end of the third series in 2017. But Crook has “thought of a good story” and so we’re back in the bucolic peace of the English countryside, as Andy and Lance race to find a precious relic to save their meeting hall from demolition. KC

Wild Rose

RTÉ2, 9pm

Jessie Buckley was already hugely experienced when she took on the role of a Scottish ex-con who aspires to be a Nashville great in this 2019 film. She’d come second in I’d Do Anything. She done War and Peace for the BBC. She’d been in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White. This still somehow felt as the full confirmation of her staggering gifts. The film itself is a triumphant fist-pumper. DC


RTÉ2, 12.50am

If you’re still up when the rest have expired beneath a mountain of curried turkey and cold roasties, then slip into one of the 1960s’ slickest thrillers. Peter Yates’s 1968 film is best known for an extraordinary car chase – careering up and down vertiginous San Francisco – but the rest of the picture is every bit as gripping. DC

Tuesday, December 27th

An Affair to Remember

RTÉ One, 7.50am

Set the recorder for Leo McCarey’s durable three-hanky sobber from 1957 about two middle-aged folk who fall in love on a transatlantic liner. All would be well if they weren’t both already taken. It is a remake of the same director’s equally good Love Affair from 1939. It later inspired – and was referenced in – Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle. But Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are a couple for the ages. DC

Back to the Future

RTÉ One, 3.35pm

“Where we’re going we don’t need roads!” Robert Zemeckis’s flick is an archetypal example of 1980s movie entertainment at its glossiest and its zippiest. Featuring a buoyant Michael J Fox in the lead, the time-travelling adventure from 1985 clarified – for those who hadn’t noticed – quite what a social watershed the 1960s had proved. The decade before may as well have been the 16th century. DC


Channel 5, 9pm

Cast members from big British and Australian soaps join forces in this new four-part thriller set in Melbourne. Former EastEnders star Jo Joyner plays new wife Alison, who is settling nicely into married life – until her husband, Seán (former Neighbours actor Peter O’Brien) disappears after going out for a morning surf. Did he get caught in a riptide, or is there something else going on? With family tensions simmering under the sun-drenched surface, it’s not long before Alison is caught in a web of lies, deceit and danger. KC

Bad Boys for Life

RTÉ One, 9.25pm

Indulge me here. Released a few months before lockdown, the highest grossing American film of 2020 – the year that will forever carry an asterisk – reminds us of a film industry that barely exists any more. It was also an unnecessarily excellent extension of a creaky franchise. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence remain as perky as ever. Good explosions. DC

How Ireland Rocked the 80s

RTÉ One, 6.30pm

Remember all those fab festivals and big outdoor gigs we went to in the 1980s? No, me neither – it’s all just a big, beery haze. Luckily, this programme reels in those long-forgotten years when we went to Slane to see big acts like Thin Lizzy, the Stones, Queen, Bruce, Dylan and Bowie, and rocked out at Self Aid, Siamsa Cois Laoí, U2 at Croke Park and Féile in Semple Stadium. Yes, that spotty git with the mullet in the audience is you. Bob Geldof, Lord Henry Mount Charles, Waterboy Mike Scott, promoter Peter Aiken and former Pogue Cáit O’Riordan will be on hand to help jog our memories. KC

Wednesday, December 28th

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

BBC One, 11.40am

The wise dog and his idiot human friend stretched out in this feature length parody of Hammer horror, but the comedy was not in any way diluted. Each one of the new characters is a work of comic genius. Ralph Fiennes voices a grade-A bounder. Helena Bonham Carter voices a wonderful posh idiot. Peter Kay is a fearful police officer. Endlessly delightful. DC

Whiskey Galore!

BBC Two, 4.55pm

Alexander Mackendrick directs a flawless cast of British comic geniuses – Basil Radford, James Robertson Justice, Joan Greenwood – in the 1949 tale of a Scottish island whose inhabitants react with practical invention when, during wartime rationing, a shipload of whiskey washes up on their shores. This was the first Ealing comedy to become a hit in the United States. DC

Dancing in the Moonlight

RTÉ One, 9.25pm

As we approach the anniversary of Phil Lynott’s death, on January 4th, here’s a feature-length concert film celebrating the music of Philo and his band Thin Lizzy, performed by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and featuring an array of special guests, including Mundy, Jack O’Rourke, Wallis Bird, Tom Dunne and Shobsy. The gig was filmed at Collins Barracks in Dublin, and along with the many musical tributes, there will be plenty of stories and reminiscences about the man himself from those who knew him best. KC

Paul Muldoon: Laoithe is Liricí

TG4, 9.20pm

Poet Paul Muldoon has worked with such musicians as Van Morrison and Paul McCartney, but now it’s his turn to sit back while an array of stars wax lyrical about this masterful wordsmith. This feature-length documentary tracks his career from his early gig as a radio producer in Belfast to his appointment as Professor of Poetry at Princeton University in New Jersey. An impressive line-up of actors and musicians will be on hand to tell Muldoon’s story through his own words, including Paul Simon, Liam Neeson, PJ Harvey, Bono, Ruth Negga, Paul Brady and Iarla Ó Lionáird. KC


BBC Two, 10.30pm

Interesting fact. Michael Mann’s greatest film received not a single Oscar nomination in 1995. Not one. Robert De Niro stars as an expert thief who plans a bank robbery while evading the attentions of Al Pacino’s hyperactive cop. Perfect soundtrack. Gorgeous use of Los Angeles locations. And, of course, a contender for the greatest urban gunfight in Hollywood history. DC

Thursday, December 29th

The Philadelphia Story

TG4, 1.20pm

You wouldn’t be wide of the mark if you claimed George Cukor’s society romp, from 1940, as the best romantic comedy of all time. James Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn spark delightfully off one another at a wedding towards the posh end of Philadelphia. Reports of Hepburn’s “box office poison” status are exaggerated, but the film certainly put her back at the centre of the conversation. DC

Callan Kicks the Year 2022

RTÉ One, 9.15pm

Comedian and impressionist Oliver Callan widens his piss-taking net in this raucous recap of the past year in politics, sport and entertainment. It was certainly an annus horribilis, but Callan will hopefully lighten the mood, mocking Michael Flatley’s Blackbird, lampooning Liz DisasTruss, and letting rip at the three horsemen of the Oireach-alypse: Leo, Micheál and Eamon. He’ll also take a few hilarious swipes at Twitter chief twit Elon Musk, woman of the people Mary Lou McDonald, busker Ed Sheeran, economist David McWilliams, hotelier Francis Brennan, the Healy-Raes and Wagatha Christie. KC

Marie Antoinette

BBC One, 9pm

Christmas is over, you’ve gorged on turkey and guzzled all the mulled wine – nothing left to do but flake out in front of the telly and watch the latest costume drama from the BBC, set in the decadent days of Versailles leading up to the French Revolution. Emilia Schule plays the titular 14-year-old princess, who is sent to France to marry the dauphin, Louis XVI (Louis Cunningham) and produce an heir, but she soon realises she has walked into a nest of vipers, and she’s going to have to keep her wits about her and not lose the head if she’s going to survive in this cut-throat court. KC

Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

TG4, 10.20pm

It is hard to exaggerate the effect that Sacha Baron Cohen’s guerrilla comedy had on audiences back in the mid-aughts. The daring of the thing alone triggered audible gasps. Even those normally allergic to cringe were captivated by the ingenuous Kazakhstani reporter as he bumbled his way across the United States. Now feels like an off-centre classic. Cohen is a brave man. DC

Desperately Seeking Susan

BBC Four, 11pm

Madonna’s film career has been a bit stop-start for the past 40 years or so, but there was no arguing with her excellent turn in Susan Seidelman’s sharp comedy, from 1985. The flick stars the singer and a then barely known Rosanna Arquette as, respectively, hipster and housewife pinballing around New York City. Everyone involved was at their absolute freshest. The spirit of the age. DC

Friday, December 30th

It Should Happen to You

TG4, 10am

Judy Holliday, one of Hollywood’s greatest comic actors, died far too soon. The few films we have should thus be all the more cherished. Featuring Jack Lemmon in his first major big-screen performance, this fine picture from 1954 concerns a young woman who impulsively hires a billboard in New York City to advertise … herself. A sharply satirical piece that makes inventive use of a first-rate cast. DC

Witness for Prosecution

BBC Two, 2.30pm

The best of an apparent casual season of classic Agatha Christie adaptations playing over BBC Two on December 29th and 30th. Seek out the best versions of Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, but be surest not to miss this flawless translation of a theatrical staple, from 1957. Charles Laughton as the crusty barrister. Tyrone Power as the accused. Marlene Dietrich as his sly wife. Superb. DC

DIY SOS: The Bigger Build Ireland Ukraine Special

RTÉ One, 6.30pm

Baz Ashmawy hosts a special edition of the house building show, this one focused on finding homes for some of the many Ukrainian refugees who have travelled here to escape Russian president Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. In this two-parter, Baz is joined by his crack team of architects, designers and builders, and their mission is to refurbish some vacant houses on a site in Mitchelstown, Co Cork which have been made available by three Church of Ireland bishops to house Ukrainian families. Part two will be broadcast on New Year’s Eve at 8.30pm. KC

Macaque: Monkeys in the Mountains

BBC One, 7.30pm

This documentary follows the lives of a group of Barbary macaque monkeys in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, but it looks more like an episode of Succession than a nature programme. This special focuses on Mac, who has just battled to become the group’s alpha male. Now he must lead his troop, protect them from danger, all the while defending himself against challengers for the crown. Betrayed by his allies, he is deposed, but it’s not long before he is plotting to retake the leadership from his more aggressive successor. KC

White Noise

Netflix, streaming

An “airborne toxic event” threatens the smug complacency of an academic community in 1980s America. Noah Baumbach’s new take on Don DeLillo’s influential postmodern novel is not an unqualified success. The visual invention and sharp dialogue can’t quite make up for a lack of narrative momentum. But it is never boring, and it ends with a blast. Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig star. DC

Raging Bull

RTÉ2, 11.45pm

Probably the most common nominee for Martin Scorsese’s best work, this harrowing monochrome drama from 1980 stars Robert De Niro as the violently self-destructive boxer Jake La Motta and Joe Pesci as his misused brother. Film historians have argued that it marked the end of a golden, postclassical age for American movies. DC

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist