If you’re easing in, it might be best to start with Paddington and Paddington 2: not technically Christmas movies from start to finish, but definitely films that offer the same spirit of goodwill to give you the right warm glow. Alternatively, sneak in some Yule with films set at Christmas that don’t feel tied to the season. Bridget Jones’s Diary starts and ends with the Christmas holidays but has all manner of adventures in the year between. In Bruges, meanwhile, is set in December and features Christmas trees in several scenes, but isn’t what you’d call a feelgood holiday classic; more a sharp-as-a-tack black comedy with great central performances from Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson (The Banshees of Inisherin).
The same could be said of Silent Night, with Keira Knightley (Colette, Bend It Like Beckham) and Matthew Goode (Belle, A Discovery of Witches) leading a cast of characters determined to celebrate Christmas even though they’re facing the imminent end of the world.
Next, try some films building up to the Christmas season. This Is Christmas is a good-natured British comedy about a bored commuter (Alfred Enoch, the Harry Potter series) who spontaneously invites his whole train carriage for a Christmas party and unleashes a surge of community spirit. Last Christmas stars Emilia Clarke (Me Before You, Game of Thrones) as a rootless young woman working as a Christmas elf who begins to turn her life around after an encounter with a handsome guy (Henry Golding: Monsoon, Crazy Rich Asians) in a script written by Emma Thompson (Sense And Sensibility). In Boxing Day, writer-director Aml Ameen (Yardie, I May Destroy You) plays a British author bringing his American fiancée (Aja Naomi King) home for the holidays and confronting some elements of his past he had swept under the rug when she befriends his ex-girlfriend (played by pop star Leigh-Anne Pinnock).
Of course, the ensemble Christmas classic Love Actually – which celebrates its 20th birthday this year – also takes place in the weeks leading up to the holiday. That hops between stories starring Liam Neeson (Widows, Ordinary Love), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and A Funeral), Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots, Dirty Pretty Things) and many more. Hoping to inherit its crown among British Christmas comedies was 2022’s Your Christmas or Mine?, where a young couple each spontaneously decides to go to the other’s home for Christmas – only to get stuck with their partner’s family. That’s one way to learn about your in-laws! A sequel, Your Christmas or Mine 2, is fresh out this year, and sees more travel-related chaos for the cast, which includes Asa Butterfield (Sex Education, Slaughterhouse Rulez) and Daniel Mays (Fisherman’s Friends).
For the kids, there are a wealth of charming tales. Younger viewers will love Robin Robin, which comes from Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run) and tells the story of a robin raised by a family of mice, who must figure out her place in the world. That features the voices of Richard E. Grant (Saltburn, Withnail & I) and Gillian Anderson (Sex Education, The Crown). Also from Aardman but skewing just a little older is Arthur Christmas, which tells the story of Santa’s hapless younger son Arthur (James McAvoy, Atonement, His Dark Materials). With an all-star voice cast that includes Jim Broadbent (The Duke), Bill Nighy (Living) and Hugh Laurie (The Amazing Maurice) it’s an action-packed race to deliver presents on time. Clown, from the book by Quentin Blake, is another sweet festive tale. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown, Suffragette) it follows a little toy clown, discarded with a pile of old toys, on a journey to find a new loving home. Outside of animation, there’s A Boy Called Christmas, the fantastical tale of a kid venturing into the Far North in search of his missing father – and finding elves on his way.
There are, it will not surprise you to learn, also a wealth of stories based on or inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There’s Scrooge: A Christmas Carol, a musical animated adaptation of the book lit up by the talented voices of Luke Evans (Tamara Drewe) and Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose). The legendary British comedy show Blackadder also riffed on Dickens’ seasonal masterpiece for its Christmas special, Blackaddder’s Christmas Carol, with Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) playing a remarkably good man persuaded to go bad by three ghosts over Christmas night. We’re pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to go! Meanwhile The Man Who Invented Christmas stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Dickens himself in a fun, fictionalised account of how the author conceived the ultimate Christmas morality tale and changed our concept of the feast day forever.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day themselves, only the greatest classics will do. It might be Love Actually again, or beloved TV specials. The Father Ted Christmas special is a favourite in some houses, featuring three hapless priests trying to survive the holidays, while for others no Christmas is complete without an Only Fools and Horses special, about two men on the make whose get-rich-quick schemes all seem to end in disaster. But almost all of the UK agrees on one thing: the celebrations officially begin on Christmas Eve when households around the country tune in to watch the animated classic The Snowman and its fun sequel, The Snowman and The Snowdog. The beautifully scored, wordless account of a boy’s adventures with the snowman who comes alive for one magical night would melt even the most cynical heart, and let the Christmas spirit in.
Can any modern show reach those heights of popularity? Well, quite possibly. This year, comedy fans are going to be tuning in for the Ghosts Christmas special: one final episode for the beloved comedy series after it wrapped up its fifth and final season. Contrary to the spooky title, these mismatched spirits, who haunt a slightly bewildered human couple, are just right for any turkey coma: bickering, weird and deeply loveable. It all makes for a heart-warming finale to the Christmas season, and sends us off into a New Year on just the right note.