A cultural Christmas: The best films, shows, art, comedy, gigs and dance over the festive season

Looking forward to watching The Great Escape again? Or listening to that Christmas CD one more time? Why not go out instead?! Miranda Kiek and Ben Walsh select the best cultural treats on offer

Click to follow
The Independent Culture


Manic Street Preachers

This mammoth show, which will feature all of the Welsh trio's singles, has an end-of-the-line feel about it. The alternative rockers, who probably peaked with their angry anthem "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" in 1998, have been packing out venues since 1986. "A Design for Life", "Everything Must Go" and the majestic "Motorcycle Emptiness" are all on the menu from this outstanding live act. Pay your respects...

O2 Arena, London (www.theo2.co.uk) Saturday 17 December

Ed Harcourt

The underrated singer-songwriter is due the sort of career boost King Creosote received after his Mercury nomination this year. The 34-year-old has been studiously knocking out finely crafted pop records – from the Mercury nominated Here Be Monsters to last year's lovely Lustre – for 10 years without great fanfare. Discover this charming musician at either of these two small venues, Bush Hall or The Bull and Gate (which is one of the best New Year's Eve gigs on offer).

Bush Hall, London (www.bushhallmusic.co.uk) 16 December; Bull & Gate, London (www.bullandgate.co.uk) 31 December

Paul McCartney

Nobody has a back-catalogue like Macca. Belting out the first side of Help! alone would be better than most gig experiences. Hopefully "The Frog Chorus" won't receive a workout, but expect a smattering of Wings ("Band on the Run"), some Bond ("Live and Let Die") and the sort of songs (Beatles songs) that alien races will be playing in a gazillion years' time – "Hey Jude", "Got To Get You Into My Life", "We Can Work It Out", etc....

MEN Arena, Manchester (www.men-arena.com) 19 December; Echo Arena, Liverpool (www.echoarena.com) 20 December

Left with Pictures

Left with Pictures make up for their terrible name with some gorgeous, lush melodies and elegant lyrics. The classically trained four-piece, who have been compared to the likes of Divine Comedy and Belle and Sebastian, didn't really take after their lovely 2009 album Beyond Their Means or this year's equally impressive In Time, but in vocalist Stuart Barter they have a potential star in the making.

Lexington, London (www.thelexington. co.uk) 29 December


It was the year the brash Leicestershire five-piece finally broke free from Oasis's shadow and firmly established themselves as Britain's premier rock band, with the bold, accomplished Velociraptor, their fourth album which features the bombastic "Switchblade Smiles" and the tangy "Days of Forgotten", and which reached No 1 in the UK. Knocking around since 1997, the frontman Tom Meighan and his hairy lad-rockers are now definitely in their pomp.

O2 Arena, London (www.theo2.co.uk) 31 December

Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells

Aidan Moffat, the former Arab Strap singer, and Bill Wells, an accomplished jazz multi-instrumentalist, shaped one of the least-heralded and most exquisite records of the year with Everything's Getting Older. An album of softly spoken, cerebral and droll laments, full of beautiful lyrics such as "Let's revel in this joy/ I know outside you're greying but inside you're still a boy/ And you have a brother in me" on "The Sadness in Your Life Will Slowly Fade". Unmissable.

Arches, Glasgow (www.thearches.co.uk) 20 December

Primal Scream and Bombay Bicycle Club

"Just what is it that you want to do?/ We wanna be free/ We wanna be free to do what we wanna do". Expect large giddy slices of Primal Scream's seminal Screamadelica as the hedonistic Bobby Gillespie and the indie-rockers celebrate Edinburgh Hogmanay. Plus the precocious London four-piece Bombay Bicycle Club who crafted this year's sumptuous A Different Kind of Fix.

Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh (www.edinburghs hogmanay.org), 31 December


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12A)

It wasn't a patch on the BBC's quick-witted and refined Sherlock, but the first of his Sherlock Holmes movies benefited hugely from Guy Ritchie's typically zesty direction and some nice bromance chemistry between Robert Downey's wired, often shirtless, Holmes, and Jude Law's put-upon Watson. This time around, the sleuthing duo are pitted up against... wait for it... Professor Moriarty, played by Jared Harris (snotty Lane Pryce in Mad Men). Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly and Eddie Marsan all reprise their roles, with Stephen Fry stepping in as Holmes's brother, Mycroft.

Released: today

The Artist (PG)

"A surefire crowd-pleaser and magnificent," is how The Independent's Geoffrey Macnab described Michel Hazanavicius's love letter to silent cinema (left). Set in 1927, and subtitled, this comedy romance centres on Jean Dujardin's dashing silent-screen star, George Valentin, whose career is kyboshed (like Gene Kelly's in Singin' in the Rain) by the advent of talkies. Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman also star in this affectionate tale. Oscar material.

Released: 30 December

The Shop Around the Corner (NC)

Forget the hideous "remake" You've Got Mail, and sink your peepers into Ernst Lubitsch's gorgeous original. Set at Christmas in pre-war Budapest, this comedy romance stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as the warring sales assistants destined – of course – for each other. "Psychologically, I'm very confused... But personally, I don't feel bad at all..." is one of the lovely lines in this treat from 1940.

Screening at Eden Court, Inverness on Sunday 18 December at 4.30pm

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (18)

The wonderful Noomi Rapace firmly made the Lisbeth Salander role her own in the lurid Swedish adaptations of Stieg Larsson's crime trilogy. So Rooney Mara really has her work cut out matching her in David Fincher's American version. Daniel Craig, taking a break from 007, plays Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist searching for a woman missing for 40 years.

Released: 26 December

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (12A)

Does the world need another Mission Impossible? Well, Tom Cruise certainly needs a hit. Cruise's fearless agent, Ethan Hunt, and his IMF team are disavowed after being implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin. So, of course, they have to go rogue. The excellent Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Paula Patton (Precious) add some spice to this hectic actioner.

Released: 26 December

The Lady (TBC)

Luc Besson has never been a director capable of much restraint – see the preposterous Leon or the bonkers The Fifth Element – but he's reined himself in for this biographical tale of Burma's revered pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi (played by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Michelle Yeoh) and her relationship with the academic and writer Michael Aris (David Thewlis).

Released: 30 December

Great Expectations (NC)

David Lean has made more "epic" films – Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago etc – but none as sublime as his exquisite 1946 adaptation of Charles Dickens's rags-to-riches tale. John Mills stars as Pip, the humble orphan who becomes a gentleman due to an unknown benefactor, Alec Guinness is his pal, Herbert, Martita Hunt is Miss Havisham and Jean Simmons is particularly memorable as a young Estella.

Screening on 1 January at 6.10pm; 6 Jan at 8.20pm; 7 Jan at 6pm; all at NFT2, London (www.bfi.org.uk)


The Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

The British Library offers vibrant vermilions, brilliant ultramarines and a surfeit of gold leaf in their display of illuminated manuscripts selected from more than 800 years' worth of Royal collections.

British Library, London (www.bl.uk) to 13 March

Alice in Wonderland

There is something Christmassy about Lewis Carroll's carnivalesque Wonderland. This exhibition brings together a selection of Alice-inspired art from Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations to more recent works by Peter Blake and Nalini Malani (left: Alice, 2006) .

Tate Liverpool (www.tate.org.uk/liverpool) to 29 January

Hot Scots

One of several exhibitions with which the newly refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery has chosen to open its doors. These photograph portraits showcase some of Scotland's hottest contemporary talent, from Paolo Nutini to Armando Iannucci, and David Tennant to Tom Kitchen.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (www.national galleries.org) to 1 April

Turner Prize Exhibition

It's the best-known and most controversial art prize going. Genius or Emperor's New Clothes? Judge for yourself.

Baltic Centre, Gateshead (www.balticmill. com) to 8 January


Wartime Christmas Carols

Enjoy a medley of 1940s classics and traditional hymns sung by two Swingtime Sweethearts sitting underneath a Second World War bomber plane in Bomber Hall at the Royal Air Force Museum. Schmaltz is permissible at Christmas... just.

RAF Museum, London (www.rafmuseum. org.uk ) 17 and 18 December


Torture, murder and attempted rape make for unseasonal fare, but this Tosca is directed by the great soprano (and Tosca of her time) Catherine Malfitano and is worth making a special case for. Claire Rutter and Gwyn Hughes Jones play the lovers and Anthony Michaels-Moore their nemesis.

Coliseum, London (www.eno.org ) to 29 January

Stephen Hough piano; Skampa Quartet

Celebrated pianist and Wigmore Hall artist in residence Stephen Hough performs a selection of chamber music with the Skampa Quartet. Two challenging pieces from Smetana and Janacek are balanced by Dvorak.

Wigmore Hall, London (www.wigmore-hall.org.uk ) 20 December

Christmas at the Movies

A family-friendly concert as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra play a number of animal-related film scores including themes from The Lion King, Dances with Wolves and Chicken Run.

City Halls, Glasgow (www.glasgowconcerthalls.com) 18 December


Somewhere between dance, performance art and theatre, this surreal work stars Charlie Chaplin's daughter, Aurélia Thierrée. Expect the same masterful mimicry and tricksy trompes d'oeil that won her sell-out audiences and glowing reviews for Aurélia's Oratorio.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (www. southbankcentre.co.uk) to 2 January

Magical Night

This is a ballet with a plot similar to The Nutcracker, except with music composed in the 1920s by Kurt Weill. The score had been thought lost until 2005, when a set of parts was discovered in a vault in Yale and a new edition created. This is its first British performance.

Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London (www.roh.org.uk ) to 31 January

Beauty and the Beast

David Nixon's elegant new version of the fairytale boasts some luscious haute couture costumes and a score comprising music by Bizet, Debussy, Poulenc and Saint-Saëns.

Grand Theatre, Leeds (www.northernballet.com ) to 31 December then on tour


Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

Robin Ince's humanist carol service resurrects itself for the fourth year running. It's one of the very few (if not only) comedy nights out which can offer a 20-piece orchestra and choir as well as comedy sets from the likes of Josie Long, Alexei Sayle and Richard Herring.

Bloomsbury Theatre, London (www.thebloomsbury.com) to 23 December

John Hegley's Christmas Crackers/John Hegley: Family Wordship

John Hegley is a busy man over the Christmas period and, after a long run performing his deceptively simple poetry at the Battersea Arts Centre, he dashes up to Aberdeen for a special 12th Day of Christmas show in which he will perform pieces on such far-ranging and differeing subjects as voles and Daleks.

Christmas Crackers, BAC, London (www.bac.org.uk), to 31 December; Family Word Ship, Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (www.boxofficeaberdeen. com) 6 January

Tim Key: Masterslut

As comic conceits go, performing in a bath must rank among the most eccentric, yet this is precisely what poet Tim Key (right) does in Masterslut. The show, which was given excellent reviews in Edinburgh, has now transferred to the Soho Theatre, London, where audiences have another chance to immerse themselves in Key's off-kilter comedy.

Soho Theatre, London (www.sohotheatre.com ) to 7 January


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

It is becoming almost routine for Anne Widdecombe to turn up in the most unexpected of places. This time she's playing "Widdy-in-Waiting", the servant of the Wicked Queen played by – oh the casting coup! – caustic Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood. So great has been the demand to see this diabolic pairing that the Orchard Theatre has already had to extend the run by a week.

Orchard Theatre, Dartford (www. orchardtheatre.co.uk) to 7 January

Robin Hood

If the RSC have made Robin Hood naughty, the Alhamabra Theatre have made him mature. Comedian Billy Pearce dons the legendary green tights for a spot of legendary forcible redistribution.

Alhambra Theatre, Bradford (www. bradford-theatres.co.uk) to 5 February

Bollywood Cinderella

If in the traditional Cinderella mice can be made into footmen and pumpkins into coaches, is there any reason why a large purple aubergine should not be made into the Fairy Godmother? Hardeep Singh Kohli thinks not and has done precisely that in his ebullient Bollywood take on a panto favourite.

Tara Arts Theatre, London (www.tara-arts.com ) to 24 December


One Man, Two Guvnors

Richard Bean's updated version of Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters starring James Corden had people rolling in the aisles at the National Theatre. It has now moved to the West End for an extended run.

Adelphi Theatre, London (www.onemantwoguvnors.com) booking to end of February

The Heart of Robin Hood

RSC Associate Director David Farr has the daunting task of following up last year's Christmas smash hit, Matilda, in Stratford. In this new play, Robin Hood is a rogue who must be brought into line by a feisty, cross-dressing Maid Marion.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (www.rsc. org.uk) to 7 January

The French Detective and the Blue Dog

A young girl turns Maigret as she investigates a spate of crimes which have been "dogging" a small French village in this new musical comedy from the Olivier Award nominee Hattie Naylor (Ivan and the Dogs).

Theatre Royal, Bath (www. theatreroyal.org.uk ) to 8 January

The Comedy of Errors

Lenny Henry plays a befuddled Antipholus of Syracuse who, on landing in a strange land, is mistaken for the husband of a sublimely Essex-ed-up Claudie Blakeley (Adriana) in Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity. Dominic Cooke directs.

National Theatre, London (www.nationaltheatre.org.uk) to 1 April

Noises Off

Michael Frayn's delightfully silly play-within-a-play is the perfect choice for adults who fancy some panto-esque mayhem without the soap stars or fidgeting children. Reliable Lindsay Posner directs a top cast which includes Celia Imrie, Robert Glenister and Aisling Loftus.

The Old Vic, London (www.oldVictheatre. com) to 10 March

The Colour of Nonsense

The relentless pursuit of the new is not an obvious topic of satire for an avant-garde theatre group. It says a lot for Forkbeard Fantasy's chutzpah that they try it in their latest play, a cartoon-ish multimedia mash-up of Edward Lear's nonsense poems and "The Emperor's New Clothes".

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (www.southbankcentre.co.uk ) to 28 December

The Firework-Maker's Daughter

Adapted by Stephen Russell from Phillip Pullman's vivid novel, The Firework-Maker's Daughter is staged in one of the most picturesque theatres in the UK.

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick (www.theatrebythelake.co.uk) to 7 January

Office Party

Can't face your office Christmas party? Get into practice first with this theatrical version. Audience members are the employees of a fictional company, wandering around the rooms of a disused office, while a group of talented improv artists – including Ursula Martinez – mingle with the crowd and create a riotous interactive drama piece.

Pleasance Theatre, London (www.pleasance.co.uk) to 17 December