Christmas may well be a time for goodwill to all men and all the rest of it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need our crime fiction fix. After all, how many of you are hoping that the latest hit detective novel or serial killer tale is wrapped up under the tree with your name on it?
For those of us after a good telly whodunit or grisly movie murder, the festive schedule has plenty of crime waiting for you in its packed-out stocking.
Here’s our pick of the very best crime films and dramas on television over Christmas…
The best Christmas TV and films 2018:
Agatha and the Truth of Murder
We all know Agatha Christie as perhaps the greatest ever mystery writer. But few people are aware of the extremely mysterious circumstances surrounding her own eleven-day disappearance back in 1926. More than a thousand police detectives worked the case to track the famous writer down. When she was eventually found, some 200-odd miles from home, she had absolutely no recollection of where she’d been or what she’d done.
This Channel Five drama – the first ever fully commissioned by the broadcaster – explores an interesting new theory around the incident… Did Agatha Christie go missing while trying to solve a real-life murder case, perhaps?
Channel: Channel Five
When? Sunday 23 December at 9pm
The Silence of the Lambs
Here’s the ultimate test of just how much of a crime fiction fan you are. And an insomniac, admittedly (given it doesn’t finish until well past 2am). Who’s up for watching The Silence of the Lambs on Christmas Day night?! Most folk will be in bed by the time this incredible Thomas Harris adaptation starts. But us? Well, there’s a pretty decent chance we’ll be watching this Hannibal Lecter flick. Again.
Alongside the superb earlier Red Dragon movie version Manhunter, this serial killer masterpiece starring Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins can boast to being one of the greatest thrillers ever made. In fact, it’s one of the greatest films ever made full stop.
Watch it with what’s left of the Quality Street. And a nice Chiaaaaanti.
When? Christmas Day at 11:20pm
The ABC Murders
Most of us still think of David Suchet or Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, don’t we? It was a little tricky to fully buy into Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal in his film version of Murder on the Orient Express last year, so who knows how we’ll get on with John Malkovich in the role here. Even if he is an actor of some calibre.
The Empire of the Sun actor plays an older, greyer and more defeated version of the Belgian sleuth as he comes up against a brutal foe in the shape of the anonymous ABC killer.
With support from the likes of Rupert Grint, Tara Fitzgerald and Broadchurch‘s Andrew Buchan, this much-anticipated whodunit runs for three consecutive nights over the Christmas period and is borderline unmissable.
Channel: BBC One
When? Starts Boxing Day at 9pm
Known as Svartsjön in its native Sweden, this Scandi noir didn’t exactly pull up trees during its first run on BBC Four last year, but it won over everyone that tuned in for it. Created by writer Ulf Kvensler, it’s a grisly series that follows the goings-on at the abandoned Black Lake ski resort some years after the shocking murder of a family there. Part crimer, part horror, the second series of this dark mountain-set chiller should be well worthy of your attention.
Channel: BBC Four
When? Saturday 29 December at 9pm
No, we’re not recommending to you a musical with the ‘singing’ of Russell Crowe, but a straight and song-free adaptation of Les Misérables. In this more serious take on Victor Hugo’s classic tale of poverty, human rights and suffering, it’s Dominic West (Jean Valjean) vs. David Oyelowo (Javert) in the main roles, with able support coming from Lily Collins (Fantine), Josh O’Connor (Marius Pontmercy) and Olivia Colman (Madame Thénardier).
One of the core themes of this six-part epic is the idea of justice, or more specifically – injustice. Circumstances force a man to steal bread to feed his starving family. But then ‘the law’ effectively creates a career criminal out of that man. This version of Les Mis certainly doesn’t look to shy away from the issues that Hugo wanted to originally address back in the 1860s. Just don’t expect anyone belting out ‘I Dreamed a Dream’.
Channel: BBC One
When? Sunday 30 December at 9pm
Poirot double bill: Death on the Nile + Evil Under the Sun
For those of you a little dubious of John Malkovich as Poirot, Auntie Beeb has a bit of a New Year’s Eve treat for you – a full afternoon of Hercule Ustinov. It’s a twofer for fans of Christie’s sleuth with the classic Cairo-set Death on the Nile kicking things off before the less-seen – but almost as good – Evil Under the Sun takes you into early evening. What better way to gear up for the evening’s Champagne poppin’, eh?
Channel: BBC Two
When? New Year’s Eve at 12:50pm + 3:10pm
It’s been a full three years since Spectre hit cinemas, if you can believe that. A 2 hour 40 minute Bond epic, this might not be as masterful as its predecessor Skyfall, but it’s still absolutely everything demanded from a 007 picture – and more. Daniel Craig is on top form as you’d expect, as is bad guy Christoph Waltz and the supporting cast (especially Léa Seydoux as Dr Madeleine Swann, Bond’s smart, tough love interest).
This 24th James Bond offering offers up a top evening’s entertainment, even if it might not rank as one of the franchise’s very best instalments. Still, it makes for a decent alternative to Jool Holland’s Hootenanny.
When? New Year’s Eve at 8pm
It’s been three years since the BBC last serve up a bit of Luther. Idris Elba’s idiosyncratic London detective serial is always a huge hit with audiences. So much so that the last two-part ‘series’ upset plenty of fans with its brevity. This time out we’re being treated to four parts and even a return to the action for Ruth Wilson’s popular character Alice Morgan.
Channel: BBC One
When? Starts New Year’s Day at 9pm
Escape at Dannemora
Top crime dramas aren’t usually directed by the likes of Ben Stiller, are they? Just imagine True Detective given the Adam Sandler treatment (actually, don’t…). But thankfully this critically well-received prison break drama isn’t played for laughs in the slightest.
By all accounts, Escape at Dannemora is pretty slow going, but the audience’s patience is quickly rewarded when the fascinating story begins to unfold. Based on the shocking true story of a 2015 prison break in upstate New York, two convicted murderers (Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano) spark a huge manhunt after being helped to escape by a married female prison employee (a career-best Patricia Arquette) that both had become romantically entangled with.
Support comes from the likes of the brilliant David Morse (The Crossing Guard) and The Sopranos‘ Michael Imperioli.
Channel: Sky Atlantic
When? New Year’s Day at 9pm
Much was expected when this film was released back in 2013. With the legendary author Cormac McCarthy (The Road, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men) on penning duties and the equally legendary Ridley Scott directing (Alien, Bladerunner, All the Money in the World), you can see why. Add in the cast of Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt and, well, you’d expect fireworks, right? Right. What we got instead was a slightly odd character study of a line-up of the kind of cold and appalling people that the world of crime produces.
On release, it split opinion and it’s certainly not going down as a crime classic, but go in open-minded and you might just be taken in by this wordy and nihilistic tale of greed and calculating evil. Noirs don’t get much darker than this. Festive it ain’t.
Channel: Channel Four
When? Friday 4 January at 11pm
And those are just our top picks. There’s plenty more in the way of excellent crime drama and films showing in the corner of your living room over the festive period. So enjoy – and Merry Christmas!
Have we missed any of the best Christmas TV shows and films? Let us know in the comments below!