Christmas TV 2015: Best arts and music programmes from Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia to A Life on Screen: Stephen Fry
Gerard Gilbert picks the programmes not to miss over the festive season
David Walliams, David Attenborough, David Beckham, Darcey Bussell, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, Dickens... the alliteration may stop there, but not the sense of déjà vu as television broadcasts a host of new productions within what is a now well-established template.
The drama front is very promising, with an excellent new Agatha Christie adaptation, And Then There Were None, and the eagerly awaited one-off Victorian episode of Sherlock a fitting climax to the holiday viewing.
Arts & Music
Carlos Acosta’s Carmen: the Farewell Performance, Christmas Day, 7.30pm BBC4
The Cuban ballet star’s final performance on the main stage at Covent Garden as he bids farewell to the Royal Ballet after nearly 20 years. It’s a pared-down version of Bizet’s Carmen, introduced by Darcey Bussell, who can be seen later tonight in Darcey’s Ballet Heroes (8.50pm BBC2), the Strictly judge (as we now think of her) paying tribute to her male dance heroes.
Gypsy: Live from the Savoy Theatre , Sun 27 Dec, 9pm BBC4
“Imelda Staunton’s knock-out, psychologically searching performance as Momma Rose, the showbiz mother from hell, brilliantly puts the ‘ow’ in ‘wow factor’,” wrote The Independent’s theatre critic in his review of Jonathan Kent’s brilliant revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway classic. The West End run is now over, so catch it here if you can.
Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia , Mon 28 Dec, 9pm BBC4
Michael Palin, the art critic – it’s yet a new identity for the erstwhile Python, what with earlier films on Vilhelm Hammershoi and Andrew Wyeth, and now this investigation into a female contemporary of Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi, whose visceral painting of “a woman, quietly and efficiently cutting a man’s head off”, caught Palin’s eye in a Naples gallery.
A Life on Screen: Stephen Fry , Tue 29 Dec, 9pm BBC2
Stephen Fry is so much better known these days as the MC at the Bafta film awards and the host of QI – now quitting that role after 13 years – that it’s possible to overlook his long, varied career as an actor. This (fittingly) Bafta tribute recalls roles in Blackadder, Wilde and the rest, along with reminders of his occasionally chaotic private life.
Roy Orbison: One of the Lonely Ones , Tue 29 Dec, 9pm BBC4
“There are so many ways to be lonely in west Texas,” says the recorded voice of Roy Orbison, recalling the childhood that inspired one of his most famous songs. Featuring home movies and the singer’s hitherto unheard recollections, this documentary follows the rollercoaster career of an artist described here as “one of the four horsemen of the rock’n’roll apocalypse”. There’s no hint as to who the other three were.
Sinatra: All or Nothing at All , New Year’s Eve, 9pm BBC4
Another chance to catch the Going Clear documentary-maker Alex Gibney’s impressive four-hour biography (showing in two parts, on consecutive nights) detailing the kid from Hoboken’s meteoric rise to become arguably the world’s first teenage idol, and his second act as an Oscar-winning actor and crooner of songs of worldly experience.
Jools’s Annual Hootenanny 2015 , New Year’s Eve, 11.10pm BBC2
It’s going to take a pretty good New Year’s Eve party to improve on Jools Holland’s annual feelgood showcase, which this year – for the 23rd edition – features Tom Jones, Jeff Beck, Jess Glynne, Paul Weller, Hozier, James Bay, Beth Hart, Ruby Turner and Rhiannon Giddens.
The Joy of Rachmaninov, New Year’s Day, 9pm BBC4
“He takes his Romantic machine gun and nukes the audience,” is a somewhat confusing metaphor about Sergei Rachmaninov used by one contributor as Tom Service journeys across Russia and the tumultuous politics of the first half of the 20th century to try and disprove the idea that the composer was all lush doom and gloom.