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Film

Yo ho ho how about some more exciting film scheduling at Christmas please?

What movie surprises is the BBC offering up under the tree this year? Erm, none really. But, says Simon Brew, maybe we should just welcome what the Beeb does best and leave the blockbusters to the big boys of the film world?

Here are BBC One’s Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day schedules,” chirped an enthusiastic Tweet unleashed on the channel’s Twitter account at the start of December. “Glad I’ll be at work for most of it,” one fairly representative reply quickly fired back. “This is the kind of scheduling that makes me want to go out for a walk,” added another. People, it seems, were not very impressed.

But then Christmas TV films have long since changed. It’s unthinkable now to imagine legions of frustrated parents setting the VCR for the BBC’s premiere of Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom, a huge television event back on Christmas Day 1987. Last year, even Frozen struggled to get people interested (primarily because scientists had long since proven that 98 per cent of parents had the film wired permanently to the innards of their brain).

In fairness to Auntie, there’s not a bad selection of films: Zootropolis on Christmas Eve is terrific, and The BFG on Boxing Day feels about right. But a prime slot for 1981’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark on Boxing Day seems representative of how important big movies no longer are to the BBC.

BBC Two has something a little different, though. Ben Wheatley’s new film Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is currently on a cinema tour around the UK. It’ll be getting a TV premiere over the Christmas period.

The other terrestrial channels are hardly getting their boxing gloves on either. ITV is showing the classic Gremlins on Christmas Eve, but it offsets its generosity with a 30-minute Keith Lemon and Paddy McGuinness recreation of the feature half-an-hour before. Its big movie is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it’s saving that for December 30. On the upside, no Keith and Paddy before that one.

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The year’s blockbusters are all residing on Sky Cinema. Avengers: Infinity War is the headline attraction (as it is on Netflix, oddly enough), being added to the service on Christmas Day. Rampage, Ready Player One and one of the best comedies of the year, Blockers, arrive around that day too. Avoid Peter Rabbit’s debut on Christmas Eve if you can, though. Comfortably one of the nastiest family films of the year, that.

Mrs Brown’s Boys may cause critics to invent fresh words to describe how little they like it, but it does the numbers

Where, then, is the good, exciting stuff? Well, predictably, it’s Netflix. It debuts high-profile Oscar contender Roma, from Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón, in mid-December, it’s lured Sandra Bullock to headline thriller Bird Box on December 21, and scam-artist comedy Bad Seeds hits on the same day. The advantage to each of these? At least you won’t have seen them before.

Which, of course, is the core problem. Outside of its own productions, there’s not a film the BBC tends to show that hasn’t been devoured on the big screen, on disc and on streaming services before it does so. That’s why it tends to get more success – as each of the terrestrial channels does – with special episodes of its biggest shows. Mrs Brown’s Boys may cause critics to invent fresh words to describe how little they like it, but it does the numbers. Faced with opposition whose budgets are dramatic, the fight for a Christmas movie is long lost. And, let’s face it, the kids are on YouTube/the Xbox/their phone anyway.

Still, try ’em on Netflix’s charming The Christmas Chronicles, starring Kurt Russell. You never know: they might look up from their smartphone for a good 10 minutes…

Simon Brew is the founder and editor of Film Stories, filmstories.co.uk

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