TV choice: A seven-day guide to Christmas television and radio

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The Independent Culture
O' come all ye favourites

ARENA: CASANOVA

Monday, 11.20pm BBC2

A meditation about passing time for the last days of the millennium. The lover and memorialist, who died just over two centuries ago, often seems remarkably modern - and at other times very much a man of his own quite different age. Talking heads spout against a background of luscious views of some of the places where Casanova lived his adventurous life, for an enjoyable tele-biography.

LAST CHRISTMAS

Wednesday, 9.30pm BBC1

A boy dreams of finding his dead father, and when his dream miraculously comes true, discovers that the man was not entirely the hero he had imagined. Tony Grounds' bittersweet seasonal drama, starring Ray Winstone and Pauline Quirk, has ambitions to rival those sentimental fantasies like It's a Wonderful Life. If that's your idea of the Christmas spirit, this should get the holiday off to a good start.

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL

Christmas Eve, 2.50pm ITV

Michael Caine plays Scrooge, as the only human character in this Muppet version of A Christmas Carol; Caine and Dickens are having rather a good Christmas on television this year. The Muppets, meanwhile, fit into the plot with ease: Miss Piggy and Kermit are the Cratchits, Statler and Waldorf are the Marleys, Gonzo is Charles Dickens ... and the whole thing turns out to be much more faithful to the spirit than you dared to expect.

THE GREATEST STORE IN THE WORLD

Christmas Eve, 4.15pm BBC1

Left homeless three days before Christmas, Geraldine (Dervla Kirwan) and her daughters meet Santa after they take refuge in a department store, in this amusing drama for children.

THE VICAR OF DIBLEY

Christmas Eve, 9.35pm BBC1

By tradition, this is the season for sitcom specials. Dawn French's vicar combines laughter with a hint of religion (though not enough to notice): it returns now for four specials, picking up on earlier storylines. Geraldine (French) fancies Simon (Clive Mantle), and Alice (Emma Chambers) still doesn't understand Geraldine's jokes.

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH

Christmas Day, 11am BBC1

The Roald Dahl adaptation that comes closest to capturing the writer's darkly comic fantasy world, in a skilful combination of live action and animation. Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margolyes play James's wicked aunts, from whom he at last escapes on a airborne peach, accompanied by a bunch of friendly insects.

HOOVES OF FIRE

Christmas Day, 2.30pm BBC1

Animation about Robbie the Reindeer which is designed to please most members of the family. Ardal O'Hanlon, Caroline Quentin and Steve Coogan are among those supplying the voices.

DAVID COPPERFIELD

Christmas Day, 7pm BBC1

After ITV's Oliver Twist, the Beeb now has a classic Dickens serial of its own, made with its usual attention to detail of period, adaptation and script. And this is a big Dickens, the writer's great autobiographical novel, demanding and getting a powerful cast: Bob Hoskins takes on the plum role of Micawber, with Nicholas Lyndhust as Uriah Heep and Maggie Smith as Betsey Trotwood. David himself is played by Ciarn McMenamin and the two-part adaptation by Adrian Hodges is directed by Simon Curtis. It promises three hours of family entertainment with the prestige of high culture and the pleasures of soap opera - looks good, feels good, does you good?

RKO 281

Christmas Day, 10.15pm BBC2

A terrific prelude to the Christmas evening screening of Citizen Kane, this is a dramatisation of the story behind the film - "spiritually true to the events, rather than to the letter," according to its director Ben Ross.

The truth of the events remains, in any case, in dispute (read David Thomson's and Simon Callow's biographies). The title comes from the number used by the studio to designate Orson Welles's film, to prevent details being leaked to its subject, the newspaper boss William Randolph Hearst. When Hearst got wind of the story, he used all his power in an attempt to suppress Welles's work - and nearly succeeded.

A clear case of money versus art? Ross's film suggests that the issues were less clear-cut and, as it proceeds, finds deep parallels between the ambitious young director and the ageing magnate. James Cromwell is superb as Hearst, with fine performances from the other leads (Liev Schreiber, John Malkovich, Roy Scheider) and a surprising cameo from Brenda Blethyn as gossip columnist Louella Parsons. But the tawdry glamour comes from Hollywood itself, in what we now think of as a Golden Age.

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