Gilbey on Film: Season’s greetings

An alternative Christmas film guide.

In a Pavlovian response to Christmas, I find myself in receipt of a copy of the double issue of the Radio Times, even though my entire television viewing this year has dwindled almost to the length of a commercial break. It's all those channels, all that choice – that's the problem.

In response, I bring you today both a practical solution to this profligacy and a way to carve out for yourself a week of film watching that doesn't adhere to what the schedulers would have you believe constitutes seasonal viewing.

Avoid the clichés of Christmas film viewing. Flee from The Great Escape! Say "Goodbye, yellow brick road" to The Wizard of Oz! Beg to differ with the assertion that It's a Wonderful Life! And step into the New Statesman's Alternative Christmas Film Guide . . .

Christmas Eve
Festen (12 midnight, Sky Arts 2)
Dreading that family get-together? Stomach knotted at the thought of all those resentments being dredged up over a banquet of excessively boiled veg? After watching Thomas Vinterberg's Festen, the first Dogme95 film, you can content yourself that at least your clan isn't that screwed up.

Christmas Day
The Remains of the Day (4.25pm, Channel 5)
Carrie (12.10am, Channel 4)
Why has no one thought of pairing these literary adaptations in a double-bill? The repressed passion of Merchant/Ivory's best film, adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker-winning novel, will sit nicely when followed the same day by the operatic splurge of Brian De Palma's Stephen King-inspired hormones-and-horror tour de force.

Boxing Day
Return to Oz (11.55pm, Sky Family)
The scariest movie screening on television over Christmas, and an abrasive companion piece to the already freaky original. It begins with Dorothy receiving ECT and later features a headless queen flailing around in a chamber full of her own screaming heads. Not sure how on earth this ever got greenlit, but thank goodness it did.

27 December
Dogtoothand Wasp (1.35am, Film4)
More slices of warped family life. Dogtooth is a Greek one-off about parents who have gone to unusual lengths to subdue and control their adult children; it's shot with a crisp, formalist precision that lends its harrowing moments a refrigerated air. Wasp is the Oscar-winning short by Andrea Arnold which inspired her second feature, Fish Tank.

28 December
The Shooting Party (11pm, BBC4)
In between La Règle du jeu and Gosford Park, there was another brilliant "country house" drama, though this one is more often overlooked. James Mason (in his last cinema film), Edward Fox and John Gielgud star. Pour yourself a sherry and watch the upper classes in decay.

29 December
Fahrenheit 451 (3.20pm, Sky Classics)
Not because book-burning will be on your mind after clueless relatives bombard you with celebrity biographies – but because Nicolas Roeg's zinging cinematography is a treat for the eyes. You also get two Julie Christies for your money.

30 December
Primal Fear (11.20pm, TCM)
A friend once pointed out that Richard Gere has two expressions, which can be summarised as: "Where are my keys?" and "Oh, that's where my keys are". Any limitations are put to good effect here in his performance as a blinkered, narcissistic lawyer stumbling upon the case of a lifetime. Excellent support from Laura Linney and Frances McDormand, and with a star-making turn from Edward Norton.

31 December
Fly Away Home (3.10pm, Five)
The writer-director Carroll Ballard made one of the greatest children's movies of all time in 1979 with The Black Stallion. Then he did it again 17 years later in Fly Away Home, about a motherless girl (Anna Paquin) who gets to play mum to orphaned goslings. You might find you have something in your eye by the end.

1 January 2011
Roman Holiday (5.05am)
Whether you're stumbling through the door in the first breath of the New Year, or unable to sleep because you're still up compiling resolutions, there can't be many more inspiring starts to 2011 than the sight of Audrey Hepburn tripping around Rome.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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How Dame Vera Lynn was told to “posh her accent up”

Radio 2’s 100th-birthday tribute reveals how Lynn was forced to change her voice.

“I remember seeing her near an elephant, and this elephant rolled over a bit and she had to get out of the way . . .” Vic Knibb, the vice-chairman of the veterans’ group the Burma Star Association, was one of the thousands of British soldiers serving in the Far East during the Second World War who came across Vera Lynn in the jungle, singing from the back of a Jeep, accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Speaking in Radio 2’s celebration of the singer’s 100th birthday, Vera Lynn: the Sweetheart of the United Kingdom (Sunday 19 March, 8pm), Knibb and others recalled what it meant to them that Lynn travelled so far to perform for the so-called Forgotten Army in Burma. Unlike other entertainers, who stayed in Europe or visited only military hospitals in the UK, she deliberately went where few others did – where she felt she was needed by “the boys”.

The programme, which featured a rare interview with Lynn herself, was dominated by clips of her recordings from the Thirties and Forties. We heard frequent extracts from “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “We’ll Meet Again” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. The contrast between these two voices, separated by more than six decades, was the most arresting thing this otherwise pedestrian documentary had to offer. The now gravelly-voiced centenarian sang, in her youth, with a smooth, effortless-sounding tone and crystal-clear diction. But how did the cockney daughter of a plumber from East Ham end up singing with received pronunciation?

The answer, as ever in Britain, is class. Lynn had no formal musical training, and as she had been performing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven, she was considered closer to a musical-hall crooner than a “proper” singer. But with her small vocal range and flawless self-taught technique, she chose her own songs to suit her voice. The BBC, for which she made her hugely popular radio show Sincerely Yours, requested that she take elocution lessons to “posh her accent up” and even at one point took her show off air for 18 months. “Every­body’s Sweetheart” wasn’t immune from snobbishness, it seems. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution