The best Christmas TV and films for crime fans

The weather outside might be frightful, but the television lined up for this Christmas really is looking really quite delightful.

There’s still your usual mix of repeats and so-so comedy specials. And The Queen’s Speech rarely thrills. But study the special festive Radio Times closely enough and you’ll discover plenty of crime dramas and films to enjoy on the box before the year is out.

There’s a nice mix of classic crime flicks and brand new series to enjoy over the coming weeks. We’ve gone through the listings and selected our pick of the best Christmas TV for you. Call it our little Christmas present to you… Hey, you’re welcome. Enjoy.

The best Christmas TV and films 2019:

TV

best christmas tv 2019

The Trial of Christine Keeler

This famous court case doesn’t tell the story of a young woman tried for murder or anything quite as disturbing as that. Christine Keeler’s crimes were much less gruesome, visible or even quantifiable. They were no less impactful, however.

If you’re struggling to place the name, you may have your memory jogged when you read these words – ‘The Profumo Affair’. That’s right, Ms Keeler was the woman at the centre of the 1963 political sex scandal that very nearly brought down the British government.

Kingsman actress Sophie Cookson takes the lead, with James Norton (Happy Valley, Grantchester) taking on the role of the string-pulling man behind it all, Stephen Ward. Disgraced Conservative MP John Profumo is played by The Crown’s Ben Miles.

What channel? BBC One
When? Sunday 29 & Monday 30 December, 9pm

christmas tv

Bancroft series 2

Two years ago, ITV served up a real Christmas cracker with Bancroft, starring Sarah Parish. As it was something of a surprise ratings hit, they’ve brought it back for another three-parter this year.

Parish, of course, returns as the ruthlessly icy and corrupt DCI Elizabeth Bancroft and is joined by the likes of Francesca Annis, David Avery and Ade Edmondson. This time a double murder sees Bancroft’s personal and work life collide as a dangerous new enemy emerges. Is she ruthless, icy and corrupt enough to come out on top come the end? We reckon so.

What channel? ITV1
When? New Year’s Day, Thursday 2 & Friday 3 December, 9pm

best crime tv on this christmas

Martin’s Close

Last year’s eerie one-off The Dead Room, starring Simon Callow, was a welcome addition to BBC Four’s Christmas schedule. Written and directed by mystery and horror aficionado Mark Gatiss, it was quite the treat. So the BBC have asked him to follow it up with another special. This time Gatiss presents an adaptation of M R James’ classic 1911 short story Martin’s Close.

True, it’s primarily a ghost story, but as it concerns itself with a murder trial, we thought we’d include it here. Peter Capaldi leads the cast of this no doubt chilling 30-minute special.

Watch it. Have nightmares. Ruin Christmas Day for yourself.

What channel? BBC Four
When? Christmas Eve, 10pm

best christmas tv 2019

Wisting

Fans of Scandi-Noir rejoice! The moody Nordic genre is still alive, unlike the various frozen corpses it’s thrown at us over the past few years. The latest chilled cadavers come our way courtesy of Wisting, a ten-part Norweigien crime drama that introduces the public to Detective William Wisting, played by Sven Nordin.

The series focuses on the events of two of Jørn Lier Horst’s books in the Wisting series, The Caveman and The Hunting Dogs, and co-stars The Matrix’s Carrie-Ann Moss as an FBI agent called in to help catch an American serial killer preying on the good folk of Norway.

You can read more about how Horst helped bring his Wisting books to the screen here in this article he wrote exclusively for us.

What channel? BBC Four
When? Saturday 28 December, 9pm

best christmas tv 2019

Dial M for Middlesbrough

Our final festive pick of TV shows for this Christmastime is a slight change of pace and tone – it’s a criminal comedy.

Billed as ‘a tale of murder and stupidity’, this Agatha Christie spoof follows on from its two successful and well-liked predecessors, Murder on the Blackpool Express and Death on the Tyne.

Johnny Vegas, Sian Gibson, Jason Donovan head up a cast that seem to love the whodunit genre as much as they love making people laugh. It’s daft but fun.

What channel? Gold
When? New Year’s Eve, 9pm

FILMS

best christmas tv 2019

Entrapment (1999)

This tale of a skilled art thief coming under suspicion when a world-famous Rembrandt goes walkies was dogged somewhat by low-level controversy on its release at the tail end of last century. The age gap between the two romantic leads, Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was said to be a little off-putting. But who cares if Zeta-Jones appreciates an older man?

Realistic it ain’t. But a fun caper it is. There’s chemistry between the two stars, a fun plot and plenty of exciting nicked art action. Entrapment is something of an old-school throwback to films of the 60s and 70s and serves as a decent movie to watch with the family of a Yuletide Saturday evening.

What channel? ITV1
When? Saturday 21 December, 8.10pm

best christmas tv 2019

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Quite simply one of the best Agatha Christie adaptations ever committed to celluloid, there’s no reason not to while away early Christmas Eve afternoon with this Poirot classic.

Albert Finney is the persnickety Belgian poking through a train full of suspects that include – but are not limited to – Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Sir John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins and Michael York.

Murder on the Orient Express is all-time great film and an absolute roller coaster. A roller coaster that happens to be on a train. Don’t forget to board it.

What channel? BBC Two
When? Christmas Eve, 11.40am

best christmas tv 2019

Death on the Nile (1978)

Christmas Eve on BBC Two is Agatha Christie Central. Following on from Murder on the Orient Express is another classic Poirot mystery, this time with Peter Ustinov doing the sleuthing and moustache fiddling.

Substitute the Alps for Egypt and a train for a paddle steamer and we have Death on the Nile. This 1978 film might not be quite as good as its predecessor, but it’s still rollicking good fun, and boasts just as incredible a cast… There’s Mia Farrow, Dame Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, David Niven, George Kennedy and even Bette Davis aboard.

What channel? BBC Two
When? Christmas Eve, 1.45pm

what's on tv this christmas

The Ipcress File (1965)

Taking on Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer, the downbeat and bespectacled spy, is a young Michael Caine. Not as flashy as James Bond, The Ipcress File is no less involving or exciting.

If you like your espionage fiction, you may well already be familiar with the book and you’ll almost certainly have heard of – or even seen – this low-key film version. It bears repeat viewing, though. After all, sixties cool is forever cool.

What channel? BBC Two
When? Saturday 28 December, 2.55pm

what's on tv this christmas

Cape Fear (1991)

The Robert Mitchum/Gregory Peck/Martin Balsam version from 1962 is great. This version from 1991 is even better. The Irishman’s Martin Scorsese directs long-time collaborator Robert De Niro, as well as Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis in a noirish tale of obsession and revenge. Look out for fun cameos from Mitchum, Peck and Balsam.

Sure it’s (intentionally) a little overwrought at times, but it’s gripping stuff. De Niro goes to town as southern bad guy Max Cady, a man who feels his attorney didn’t go to bat for him during a trial and, after serving his sentence, seeks to redress the balance. As only a madman can. Which is in a mad way.

Come for the De Niro/Scorsese pairing, stay for the material that launched a hundred Sideshow Bob gags on The Simpsons.

What channel? ITV1
When? Saturday 28 December, 11.15pm

best christmas telly

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

We end our festive picks with another film from the 60s that was remade in the 90s, except it’s the original we’ll be watching this time. So forget the (fairly decent) 1999 Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo version of The Thomas Crown Affair, we’re going back to the beautifully shot and low-key original here.

It’s ostensibly a heist movie, but it’s best remembered for the simmering sexual tension and chemistry between the film’s two leads, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. There is, of course, a famous scene with the two of them playing chess that somehow makes the game look rather erotic. Although not so erotic that you can’t still watch it with your family over New Year’s Day lunch.

Plus, there’s that song. Michel Legrand’s Oscar-winning ‘Windmills of Your Mind’…

“Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel,
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel…”

What channel? BBC Two
When? New Year’s Day, 12.45pm

Not bad, eh? Plenty for the whole family. Provided the whole family likes crime, of course. Which we’re sure they do. Buon Natale!

There you have it – our pick of the best Christmas TV and film on this year. What will you be tuning in for? Let us know in the comments below…

Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock
Steve Charnock

Steve Charnock is a freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card.

Follow Steve on Twitter.

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