Wednesday 11 December
My Grandparents’ War: Kristin Scott Thomas
Channel 4, 9.00pm
William Scott Thomas served as a commanding officer in the Royal Navy throughout the Second World War, his work encompassing both the most famous and least heralded campaigns of the conflict. Yet, like so many, he never spoke of his experiences, thus his grandchildren – among them, Kristin Scott Thomas – had only the haziest idea of what he had been through, a situation exacerbated by the death of his son, the actress’s father, when Kristin was only six.
In the latest edition of this excellent series, she learns the full extent of William’s bravery, capabilities and suffering while in charge of HMS Impulsive as he engaged U-boats, undertook four return journeys to Dunkirk, laid mines in the Atlantic, completed eight Arctic convoys in unimaginable conditions and finally led the assault on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Scott Thomas is profoundly moved by what she discovers, talking to the descendants of those whose lives William saved. “He was a very good chuckler,” she notes at the outset; quite what he must have had to suppress to maintain his widely acknowledged good humour in old age is left in no doubt by the end of this insightful and respectful hour. GT
DIY SOS: The Big Build
BBC One, 8.00pm; not Scotland
Nick Knowles and the team head to Kent to help out a family whose youngest, two-year-old Arlo, has a lung condition never seen before in Britain. Arlo requires assistance to breathe and support around the clock; can his home be made safe and practical so that his parents can return to work and he can live a fulfilling life? GT
The Secret Life of the Zoo at Christmas
Channel 4, 8.00pm
Chester Zoo prepares for the festivities with a new arrival for the Bactrian camels, a fresh breeding programme for the mascara barb fish and rising hopes of a Christmas birth for red pandas Koda and Nima. GT
Secrets of Your Christmas Food
Channel 5, 8.00pm
Sian Williams and Stefan Gates explore enormous price differences between turkeys, how the flavour of sprouts is being softened in new farming methods, conduct a taste test for mince pies and assess the impact of Christmas excess on our bodies. GT
The Baby Has Landed
BBC Two, 9.00pm
“I don’t think I realised what he did until he wasn’t here,” admits one new mother, as the end of paternity leave brings with it new pressures, both emotional and financial, for the couples in this engaging series that follows the events of pregnancy and new parenthood. GT
Digging for Britain
BBC Four, 9.00pm
Alice Roberts drops in on a team of archaeologists who are attempting to restage a Roman cavalry tournament, in the last episode of the series. GT
Sky Arts, 9.00pm
He was the archetypal cad, the classic chancer and the inimitable rotter. Terry-Thomas honed his trade by touring theatres and music halls before his genius as a character actor was exploited in a string of minor British classics, including Privates on Parade and I’m Alright Jack. International fame beckoned, and (later) a sad decline into penury. Barry Cryer pays tribute to one of the greats. GT
Golf: Presidents Cup
Sky Sports Golf/Main Event, 9.30pm/11.15pm
Once again, it’s America versus the rest of the world (minus Europe). Melbourne hosts this edition, Ernie Els captains the ROTW side, and Tiger Woods leads the visitors’ pursuit of an eighth straight win. Hunting for their first Cup since 1998, Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen et al do have one advantage: that victory came right here at the Royal Melbourne Club. GT
Vic & Bob’s Big Night Out
BBC Four, 10.00pm
The peaks more than compensate for the troughs in the second series of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s comic anarchy, with folkies Mulligan and O’Hare in fine form debuting their new album Caravan Park, and Vic unveiling the results of his latest plastic surgery. GT
Our Man in Havana (1960, b/w) ★★★★☆
Wormold, a salesman in Havana, reluctantly agrees to spy for MI6 to fund the extravagances of his daughter Milly, and ends up inventing reports when he can’t find anything out. Carol Reed directs Alec Guinness, Maureen O’Hara and Noël Coward in this diverting adaptation of Graham Greene’s irreverent farce, set against a backdrop of political instability, with Cuba teetering on the brink of Fidel Castro’s revolución.
Scrooged (1988) ★★★★☆
Comedy Central, 9.00pm
Bill Murray plays a mean-spirited president of network television who sees the light after receiving ghostly visitors – including Carol Kane as a fairy in a tutu – in this droll update of Dickens’s tale. Murray is on deadpan, cynical form (“Have you tried staples?”), while Robert Mitchum contributes a priceless cameo as a fellow executive with plans to produce TV shows for cats and dogs.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016) ★★★★☆
BBC Two, 11.15pm
A 21st-century teen comedy of warmth, wisdom and real emotional clout? Can it be true? Our heroine is Nadine, played with eye-rolling verve by True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld; she’s stuck in a web of tricky relationships that lead to self-induced disaster. This is a world in which a single ill-thought-out Facebook message can send your life into freefall. (Not so hard to imagine.) Kyra Sedgwick co-stars.
Thursday 12 December
BBC One/ITV/Channel 4, all 9.55pm
Whoever’s ushered into Downing Street tomorrow, this evening marks the end of an era. Huw Edwards replaces David Dimbleby as presenter of the BBC’s election-night coverage after 40 years, and those are big shoes to fill. For his debut on BBC One’s Election 2019, Edwards has the comfort of knowing he’ll be aided by BBC stalwarts Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler, among others.
Although the BBC tends to win in the ratings, ITV puts up a good show with Tom Bradby hosting Election 2019 Live: The Results. The line-up is subject to change, but former Chancellor George Osborne and ex-Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls joined Bradby last time for biting commentary, so hopes are pretty high.
Finally, for a more irreverent approach to choosing a government, Channel 4 has Alternative Election Night: Krishnan Guru-Murthy and comedian Katherine Ryan look at polling day through a comic lens, with Clare Balding announcing the results. Their guests, including ex-Home Secretary Amber Rudd and former Labour MP Tom Watson, should help us to glean a few insider tidbits. There are plenty of entertaining options – fitting for an election less predictable than many. VP
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Starzplay, from today
Mindy Kaling – of The Office (American version) and The Mindy Project – has updated the 1994 Hugh Grant flick for a new era. The ten-part rom-com stars Game of Thrones’s Nathalie Emmanuel as Maya, a high-powered American in politics whose life is upended after meeting a British guy at Heathrow. But there are some very good reasons why she can’t date him… A strong multi-cultural cast is led well by Emmanuel, and there’s lots of snappy dialogue, but even with Richard Curtis onboard as executive producer, it doesn’t quite capture the charm of the original. VP
Rugby Union: The 138th Varsity Match
ITV4, 2.50pm (kick-off 3.00pm)
On Thursday, Twickenham plays host to one of the oldest rivalries in British – or any – sport, as Oxford defend their title from Cambridge.
Buy It Now for Christmas
Channel 4, 8.00pm
It may feature inventors pitching products to an audience and industry buyers, but it misses the edge and forensic detail of Dragons’ Den. The result is a flabby imitation better suited to daytime television, even if Rylan Clark-Neal brings a certain charm as host. VP
Discovering: Alan Rickman
Sky Arts, 8.00pm
This tribute to the late Alan Rickman will serve to remind us how much he’s missed. Rickman excelled in classical stage roles and triumphed as baddies in blockbusters like Die Hard, the Harry Potter movies and Love, Actually. Yet this biopic will also throw light on Rickman’s ability to send himself up and play the romantic hero, too. VP
Inside the Christmas Factory
BBC Two, 9.00pm; Wales, 8.55pm
An era in which every show gets a holiday spin-off means that Gregg Wallace is visiting a canapé factory to marvel at its Christmas output (200,000 morsels per day) while Cherry Healey learns of the benefits of using ice cubes when cooking your turkey. VP
I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! Coming Out
After the conclusion of Ant and Dec’s latest torture-chamber-cum-reality-show, we return to find out how the celebrities have been coping since they left. VP
Christmas at Chatsworth House
Channel 4, 9.00pm
This documentary was designed to showcase the tinsel-decked halls of Derbyshire’s most famous stately home, as its staff spruced it up for the usual seasonal influx of 200,000 visitors. Unfortunately, serious flooding in the area has seriously dampened seasonal spirit – causing a partial curtailment of the Christmas market. VP
Only the Brave (2017)★★★☆☆
This thriller about a crew combating wildfires in Arizona doesn’t peddle the melodrama of Ron Howard’s Backdraft – the last major film about firefighting – but it has solid merits and a truly committed cast. A 20-strong team led by Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), who’s given a second chance to Brendan (Miles Teller), a recovering crack addict, heads out to fight a monster blaze. What it lacks in detail, it provides in rugged masculine emotion.
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) ★★★★☆
The title makes everyone think it was directed by Tim Burton, but it’s time Henry Selick got proper credit for his phantasmagorical yarn, in which skull-headed Jack Skellington, head honcho of Hallowe’en Town, kidnaps Santa and takes his place on Christmas Eve. It seethes with a spirited cast of ghosts, vampires and werewolves. Catherine O’Hara and Chris Sarandon lend their voices. Burton’s regular collaborator Danny Elfman provided the catchy songs. Children with macabre tastes will be enchanted, as will many of their parents.
I Give It A Year (2013) ★★★☆☆
BBC Two, 10.30pm; not N Ireland/Wales
This cheerfully abrasive British comedy (directed by Sacha Baron Cohen’s writing partner, Dan Mazer) offers a fresh twist on a tested format, starting with a happy ending and asking what comes next. Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall play two newly-weds whose first year of marriage is more testing than the whirlwind romance that preceded it. In support, there’s everyone from Olivia Colman to Minnie Driver.
Friday 13 December
BBC One/BBC Two/ITV/Channel 4, times vary
It’ll be no surprise to see the schedules packed with general-election results specials, and panels of bleary eyed-politicians and pundits discussing the ups, downs and shock results already in – and those to come. By the time most of us get out of bed, there should be – unless things are exceptionally tight – a fairly clear picture of the overall winners and losers, and whether the nation will face another hung parliament or a working majority and a leader preparing to visit the Queen.
For the details, Huw Edwards leads Election 2019, the BBC’s through-the-night coverage, until 9am, whereupon Emily Maitlis takes over the analysis and discussion until lunchtime; it continues on BBC Two from 2pm. ITV continue their overnight coverage with Good Morning Britain (6am), then Julie Etchingham takes the reins at 9.25am; Channel 4, meanwhile, offers an extended news bulletin at noon.
If that’s not enough for you, Fiona Bruce hosts Question Time Election Special: the Result on BBC One (8.30pm), then there’s some election-themed light relief in the form of both Have I Got News for You at 9.30pm and, over on Channel 4, a mirthful The Last Leg Election Special at 10pm. GO
Amazon Prime, from today
Saved when fans lobbied Amazon to pick it up after its cancellation by Syfy, the drama about space colonists fighting political conspiracy gets a new lease of life with a spectacular fourth season that sees the crew of the Rocinante drawn into a “blood-soaked gold rush” beyond the Ring Gate. GO
The Name of the Rose
BBC Two, 9.00pm
Rupert Everett’s sadistic inquisitor Bernard Gui is one of the better things about this adaptation of Umberto Eco’s medieval murder puzzler, which finally picks up pace in the closing episode as William (John Turturro) and Adso (Damian Hardung) race to unpick the mystery and stop Gui indulging his penchant for burning women alive. GO
Inside the World’s Greatest Hotels
Channel 5, 8.00pm
A new series exploring household-name hotels begins with Caesar’s Palace, which became Las Vegas’s first themed hotel in 1966 and has been synonymous with Sin City ever since. GO
I am Johnny Cash
Sky Arts, 9.00pm
“You could’ve put him in a roomful of Presidents and he would’ve stood out,” says one contributor in this fine portrait of country music’s most charismatic star, which features rare archive footage and interviews with family members and friends. GO
Country Music by Ken Burns
BBC Four, 9.30pm & 10.20pm
Tonight’s double bill charts the changing face of country music from the Seventies to the early Eighties via the careers of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams Jr. GO
The Graham Norton Show
BBC One, 10.40pm; N Ireland, 11.10pm
A starry sofa, even by Norton’s standards, sees Judi Dench and Jennifer Hudson chatting about their new adaptation of Cats. Beside them are Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey and Michael Bublé, while Coldplay perform their latest release. GO
Adam Hills: Take His Legs
Channel 4, 11.30pm
This is an affectionate and rather entertaining documentary about disability, well-being and sport, following the Last Leg host and founder of the UK’s first disability rugby league team, the Warrington Wolves, as they prepare for the biggest game of their lives in Sydney. GO
Glass (2019) ★★★☆☆
Sky Cinema Premiere, 8.00pm
M Night Shyamalan has completed a long-range trilogy, bringing together everyone from Unbreakable and Split for a kind of real-world-superhero showdown at an insane asylum. James McAvoy’s 23 competing personalities are still fun, but this film, which also features Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Willis, is in thrall to its creator’s goofiest and most leaden ideas about What Comics Really Mean.
22 Jump Street (2014) ★★★★☆
Channing Tatum’s charisma and some neat malapropisms make this sequel to 21 Jump Street even more hilarious than the first. Instead of infiltrating a high school to arrest the suppliers of a drug, Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) infiltrate a college to do… the same. Luckily, their chemistry is sublime, and infectious – directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller even manage to make Ice Cube seem a comic genius.
Marguerite (2015) ★★★☆☆
BBC Two, 11.15pm
Xavier Giannoli directs this elegant French take on the life of the grande dame of embarrassment, Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s 1921 and Catherine Frot, on César Prize-winning form, is the unmusical socialite whose song recitals become a fixture of the Parisian arts scene. Giannoli blends parallels with Stravinsky and Dada into the comedy; Denis Mpunga and Michel Fau are good value as her weary butler and vocal coach.
Vicki Power (VP), Gerard O’Donovan (GO), Gabriel Tate (GT), Sarah Hughes (SH), Toby Dantzic (TD)