I’m sure I’m not alone among my generation in mourning the loss of the big Christmas Day movie.
Whereas films now routinely drop onto a streaming service within weeks of their cinema release, back in the 80s you had to wait the best part of a year even to rent your new favourite film from the video shop.
After another year, it would be made available to buy (a certain amount of pocket money-saving/badgering of parents might have been required for this), and then, a year after that, the film would have its grand TV premiere, which meant you could tape it off the telly for free. Result!
The biggest films were invariably saved for the festive TV schedules, and I can well remember my excitement when Back to the Future finally premiered on BBC1 on Christmas Day 1988.
Inevitably, given the daytime viewing slot, certain tweaks had to be made regarding language — so it was quite a shock, many years later, to see the film back on the big screen in my twenties and realise that Doc Brown does not in fact say, “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious stuff…”
Merry Christmas, one and all — and to all those TV editing staff who worked round the clock every December to protect the innocence of their youngest viewers, I raise my glass of sherry and offer a heartfelt “Yippee Ki Yay, melon farmer!”
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody
British actor Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) stars as the iconic pop diva in this biopic from director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) and writer Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody).
As McCarten explained to the Guardian recently, the film aims to be a ‘corrective’ to the common perception of the singer as a tragic figure, celebrating her talent and achievements while not flinching from the darker aspects of her life.
The story follows Houston’s journey from New Jersey choir girl to global superstar, a road which started when she was signed by legendary record producer Clive Davis (played by Stanley Tucci).
Fans can expect recreations of some of the standout performances and biggest hits of the singer’s career, with her back catalogue (Houston’s own vocals are used) having been re-tooled to make the most of those surround-sound cinema speakers.
An Austrian Empress chafes against the restrictions of royal life in this irreverent period drama starring Vicky Krieps (who memorably threw Daniel Day-Lewis’ buttoned-up life into disarray in 2017’s Phantom Thread).
Like last year’s Princess Diana drama Spencer, the film paints a picture of an iconic historical figure trapped in regal isolation — in this case, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Krieps), aka ‘Sisi’, who sets out on a decadent tour of Europe on the eve of her 40th birthday in 1877.
Krieps has received rave reviews for her performance, and critics have also been impressed by director Marie Kreutzer’s fast and loose approach to the genre — with Variety hailing the film as ‘a witty subversion of biopic and costume-drama clichés’.
Pick of the week: The Bishop’s Wife
Jimmy Stewart isn’t the only man in need of celestial intervention this Christmas — David Niven’s also in a spot of bother in this classic festive tale, back on the big screen for its 75th anniversary.
Niven plays Bishop Henry Brougham, a young clergyman who is so preoccupied with the demands of his work that he is neglecting his loving wife Julia (Loretta Young) and their daughter — that’s until his plea to the heavens is answered by an angel in the form of Dudley (Cary Grant).
An altogether suaver presence than It’s a Wonderful Life’s Clarence, Dudley’s mission to patch up the troubled marriage is made more complicated when he becomes somewhat smitten with Julia himself…
If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because the film had a 90s remake as The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington and — yep, her again — Whitney Houston.
|Cert U, 109 mins|
|Fri Dec 23, 5pm; Sat Dec 24, 3pm|
Other festive treats
With the big day nearly upon us, there’s a few more chances for your favourite cinematic Christmas decorations to sparkle up on the big screen before they get packed away in the cupboard for another year.
As anticipation levels reach fever pitch, you can channel your over-excitable inner child with the help of Will Ferrell in Elf at City Screen (Fri 23rd, Sat 24th), Everyman (24th) and Vue (Sat 24th, Mon 26th, Weds 28th).
Mini-MacGyver Macaulay Culkin is up to his tricks again in Home Alone (Cineworld, Fri 23rd, Sat 24th; Everyman, Fri 23rd; Vue, Sat 24th, Mon 26th, Weds 28th) and Home Alone 2 (Vue, Fri 23rd, Tues 27th, Thurs 29th).
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to make a last-ditch attempt to get into the festive spirit, a couple of hours in Bedford Falls might just do the trick: It’s a Wonderful Life is on at City Screen (Fri 23rd, Sat 24th), Everyman (Sat 24th) and Vue (Sat 24th, Mon 26th, Tues 27th).
If you prefer your seasonal redemption a bit more Muppet-y, Kermit and friends are on hand in The Muppet Christmas Carol at City Screen (Sat 24th), Cineworld (Fri 23rd, Sat 24th) and Vue (Fri 23rd, Tues 27th, Fri 29th).
Looking for a cheap family cinema trip? All aboard The Polar Express, which is your budget family-friendly viewing option at City Screen (Sat 24th, tickets £3.00), Cineworld (Fri 23rd, Sat 24th, £2.50) and Vue (daily from Fri 23rd to Thurs 29th, £2.49) — it’s also on at Everyman on Fri 23rd with tickets at the standard price.
Cineworld also have budget screenings of Elf and The Muppet Christmas Carol on Fri 23rd and Sat 24th, before switching things up with recent non-festive hit Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile from Mon 26th to Thurs 29th — tickets for all screenings are £2.50.
New Year previews and other screenings
If, like me, you thought this year’s Batman reboot could have benefited from an abbreviated runtime and the judicious addition of a rocket-launching penguin or two, you’re in luck — Cineworld are showing Tim Burton’s classic 1992 sequel Batman Returns on Fri 23rd and Sat 24th.
To celebrate, let’s enjoy this clip of Michelle Pfeiffer decapitating four department store mannequins in one take…
And from one iconic Michelle to another — there’s a chance to see Michelle Yeoh have a thoroughly bad day at the tax office in Everything Everywhere All at Once at City Screen on Tues 27th.
The one-off screening of this year’s bizarre, funny and oddly moving indie sci-fi hit comes with a recorded intro from directors ‘Daniels’ (two blokes called Daniel) and eight minutes of outtakes — which, given what they kept in the film, ought to be intriguing viewing.
As we head into 2023, City Screen also have a handful of previews of some highly rated forthcoming releases.
If you’re looking to escape the house on Boxing Day, they’ve got a sneak peek of the very Oscar bait-y new one from Skyfall director Sam Mendes — starring Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward (Top Boy) and Colin Firth, Empire of Light (Mon 26th) follows an unlikely love story between two cinema employees in a 1980s English coastal town.
Showing on Sat 31st, The Whale is the latest opinion-splitter from idiosyncratic director Darren Aronofsky, the man behind the nightmarish Black Swan and the frankly deranged mother! — never did a film do so much to earn its exclamation mark.
An almost unrecognisable Brendan Fraser stars as a reclusive, severely obese English teacher trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter (played by Sadie Sink, aka Stranger Things’ Max).
That’s followed on Sun 1st January by Broker, the forthcoming new film from acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (the man behind 2018’s excellent Shoplifters).
The director’s first film to be made in South Korea, it’s led by Parasite star Song Kang-ho as a debt-laden launderette owner who becomes involved in the provision of ‘baby boxes’ — safe spaces for new mothers to leave unwanted infants.
Also showing at City Screen on Sun 1st is a classic and rather creepy-sounding British drama from 1949: The Queen of Spades follows a Russian soldier’s obsession with an elderly lady rumoured to have sold her soul to the devil in order to always win at cards (viewed through that lens, your drunken NYE indiscretions don’t seem so bad, do they?).
Meanwhile, over at Everyman they’re starting the year with a proper crowd-pleaser in the form of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, showing on Sun 1st and Tues 3rd — it’s part of their Throwback season, which includes a hangover-friendly helping of a complimentary drink, plus hot dog or pizza.
And let’s finish with a quick small screen recommendation for those sensibly seeing in 2023 while hunkered down at home — available on iPlayer, comedy drama Happy New Year, Colin Burstead follows an increasingly fraught family get-together at a rented country house.
With a top-notch cast of familiar faces and up-and-comers led by the ever-excellent Neil Maskell, it’s a none-more-British cocktail of repressed emotions, simmering resentments, long-held grudges and plenty of alcohol.
Perfect New Year’s viewing, in other words…