The best Christmas TV and films for crime fans
Christmas is a time for family, food and festive spirit. Houses packed with people, the waft of turkey from the oven and wrapping paper, toys and Boots gift sets causing significant trip hazards on the living room floor. Yet for all the quality family time, board games and dinner table chat, let’s not pretend that our trusty ol’ TVs don’t play their part too.
Once all the Yuletide joy has settled down and we’re full to the brim with Quality Street and After Eights, all most of us want to do is kick back in an armchair and let some television wash over us. Sure, we’ll watch and enjoy all the Christmas specials and the old festive flicks, but really, we want quality drama. Quality crime drama. Just like always.
Well, never fear. Father Christmas has plenty of high-end crime telly and films to jam into our stockings this year. Here’s the best Christmas TV we’ve got to look forward to:
The best dramas on TV this Christmas:
Episodio uno of Gomorrah’s serie cinque debuts on TV for Sky viewers this Christmas. The Neapolitan crime saga, based on Roberto Saviano’s bombshell of a book on the nefarious goings-on in the Camorra, just keeps on improving. So plenty is expected of this fifth – and final – series of Italian’s television’s most successful drama ever.
When? 9pm, Saturday 18th December
Where? Sky Atlantic & NOW TV
The Girl Before
David Oyelowo, Gugug Mbatha-Raw and Jessica Plummer star in this four-part thriller series which has been co-produced by the BBC and HBO Max. It’s based on the book of the same name by J P Delaney, with the author writing this screen version too. In it, a woman seemingly strikes lucky when she’s given the opportunity to live in an incredible home by the building’s architect. But the odd rules she has to follow might not be worth it… Especially when she discovers the fate of the previous occupant.
When? 9pm, Sunday 19th December
Where? BBC One
Olivia Colman and David Thewlis play Susan and Christopher Edwards, a real-life killer couple that killed Susan’s parents and buried them in their garden. The shocking crime wasn’t discovered for well over a decade. Don’t expect a generic true crime feel here. Early word is that there’s an odd, even quite absurd, tone to the four-parter – with, unsurprisingly, excellent performances from the two leads.
When? 9pm, Tuesday 21st December
Where? Sky Atlantic
Impeachment: An American Crime Story
The tenth and final episode of the latest American Crime Story, dealing with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, airs over Christmas. The crime element may be subtle, but this is a highly watchable series packed full of recognisable actors at the top of their game. Not seen the rest of the series? Catch up on iPlayer and finish things off here.
When? 10pm, Tuesday 21st December
Where? BBC Two
Another series comes to an end on the Beeb over the festive period, with the evocative British-Austrian crime thriller Vienna Blood airing its third and final instalment. It’s another one-off special, so you don’t necessarily need to have caught the previous two episodes, or the first series. That said, they’re all well worth your time and good tips for the next time you’re flicking through the iPlayer. Based on the Max Liebermann novels by Frank Tallis, Jürgen Maurer is particularly good as the grumpy coffee bean-munching Detective Oskar Rheinhardt.
When? 9pm, Christmas Eve
Where? BBC Two
Death in Paradise
Fan favourite Officer Dwayne Myers (Danny John-Jules) makes a surprise return to this Christmas special, joining Ralf Little, Josephine Jobert and Don Warrington. It’s Death in Paradise‘s first ever festive edition, created to celebrate the Caribbean-set show’s tenth anniversary.
When? 7:30pm, Boxing Day
Where? BBC One
This CBS show is based within the Hannibal Lecter universe of Thomas Harris’ novels. Although, due to a legal wrangle, it doesn’t actually feature mention of the serial killer made famous by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Clarice never quite matches the narrative or horror highs of the superior Hannibal TV series, but it’s a decent police procedural with plenty of grimness. This is its UK premiere.
When? 9pm, Monday 27th December
Agatha Christie’s Poirot
Sure, you’ve seen it before. But this slick David Suchet-starring version of Christie’s classic Murder on the Orient Express bears repeat viewing at any time. Especially at Christmas.
When? 10pm, Monday 27th December
Brenda Blethyn’s Vera is back on ITV1, although these are repeats. However, if you missed the recent new series, why not catch them here? They’re as good as ever.
When? 8pm, Thursday 30th December
The best films on TV this Christmas:
King of Thieves
Michael Caine, Ray Winstone, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and Tom Courtenay play the old-timer crooks who pulled off the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary. This tale of ageing crims on a heist is no classic, but its charismatic cast make it more than enjoyable.
When? 10:35pm, Monday 20th December
Where? BBC One
Steve McQueen gathered together a quite incredible ensemble cast for this classy thriller. When a gang of armed robbers are left for dead after a botched raid, their widows are left bereaved and – they soon discover – with a debt to pay to a crime kingpin. Viola Davis stars, alongisde Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Robert Duvall, Brian Tyree Henry and Colin Farrell. While Daniel Kaluuya steals the show.
When? 9pm, Wednesday 22nd December
The Girl on the Train
In the watchable 2016 adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ wildly successful novel, Emily Blunt plays the eponymous girl on the train whose public transport gazing (and boozing) lands her in a sticky situation. Justin Theroux, Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson flesh out this melodrama that could easily slot into the ‘Guilty Pleasures’ section of your brain’s film library.
When? 9pm, Thursday 23rd December
North by Northwest
This 1959 spy caper is a stone cold classic, famous for its iconic Cary Grant getting chased by a crop duster scene. There’s much more to it than that, though. It’s an absolute masterpiece in building suspense and tension, for starters. Psycho may well be Alfred Hitchcock’s most renowned and discussed film, but North by Northwest is probably his best.
When? 3:20pm, Christmas Eve
Where? BBC Two
Written by Peaky Blinders’ Stephen Knight and directed by Forrest Gump’s Robert Zemeckis, this classy World War II thriller-romance stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Pitt is a Canadian spy who falls in love with Cotillard’s French Resistance officer. How will the war, their jobs and their deceptions affect their romance? Badly, it turns out.
When? 9pm, Christmas Day
Ben Affleck is the bean-counter of the title, a maths savant who’s involved in crime, but purely from a numbers point of view. Or so he claims. Only it turns out that he can kick ass just as well as he can cook books.
When? 12:15am, Boxing Day
Where? BBC One
Murder on the Orient Express
Kenneth Branagh’s version of the Poirot classic may not be cinema’s ultimate example of Agatha Christie’s classic story, but it’s gorgeously-shot and a fun train ride nonetheless. Branagh directs himself and hams it up shamelessly. And why not, eh?
When? 9pm, Tuesday 28th December
Where? Channel 4
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a few Bond films, would it? Arguably the best of the bunch is Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007.
When? 8pm, Tuesday 28th December
Skyfall’s 2015 sequel Spectre goes back to Bond basics, even inviting Blofeld back to the party. The results are mixed, with impressive action sequences tempered slightly by a convoluted plot and oddly menace-free performance from the usually very good Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavros. Still, it’s Bond. So it’s still pretty darn good. And it’s Christmas. So stick it on and enjoy it with a few mittfuls of Quality Street.
When? 9pm, New Year’s Eve
There you have it – our pick of the best Christmas TV and films! What’s caught your eye and likely to get circled in your Christmas Radio Times? Let us know in the comments below…