Television choices: Nostalgic look at some of the silver screen's finer features

 

TV pick of the week: Arena: Screen Goddesses

Saturday 9pm & 3am BBC4

"We didn't need dialogue... we had faces," Gloria Swanson told William Holden in that scene in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard where they watch Swanson's silent-star younger self on film, and this richly evocative look back at the golden age of the movie goddess – one that coincided with the age of the Hollywood studio system – revisits the pantheon: from the silent era of Theda Bara and Clara Bow to Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor, by way of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Garbo and Dietrich. The film ends with perhaps the most intriguing of the lot – the bobbed and thoroughly modern Twenties vamp Louise Brooks, while Rita Hayworth unpeeling her black satin gloves in the 1946 film noir Gilda is an object lesson in suggestive screen eroticism.

Mr Stink

Sunday 6.30pm BBC1

Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville slums it as David Walliams' (in his guise as children's author) tramp, "the stinkiest stinker who ever lived". Befriended by bullied schoolgirl Chloe (Nell Tiger Free), Mr Stink and his dog (Britain's Got Talent mutt Pudsey) are invited to hide out in the family shed, unbeknownst to Chloe's parents.

Uncle Wormsley's Christmas

Christmas Eve 10pm Sky Atlantic

This dark and twisted riposte to Mr Stink, by the web animator Joel Veitch, features the voices of Steve Coogan, Julian Barratt and Julia Davis in its tale of a "grey old man" who feeds children's pets to his giant crab. Across town, the wealthy parents of a young boy are desperately seeking the one thing their son wants more than anything – a giant crab…

Call the Midwife

Christmas day 7.30pm BBC1

A newborn is left on the convent steps, while Chummie (Miranda Hart) tries to organise a nativity play, as a new series of BBC1's biggest drama hit in over a decade begins with a Christmas special. It's by no means all fake snow and Fifties nostalgia, however, and there's a standout performance from Sheila Reid as a semi-vagrant haunted by her memories of the workhouse.

The Girl

Boxing day 9pm BBC2

"Blondes make the best victims," is the Hitchcock quote that opens Gwyneth Hughes's biopic about the director's abuse of the actress Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds. Sienna Miller is perfectly well cast as Hedren (who was consulted on the drama), but the problem lies in the depiction of Hitchcock as a dour sex pest. Even Toby Jones can't breathe life into this Hitch.

Restless

Thursday 9pm BBC1

Hayley Atwell is spot-on casting as Eva, the Russian emigree in 1939 Paris recruited by British spy master Rufus Sewell in a well-made adaptation of William Boyd's page-turner. The Downton actress Michelle Dockery also impresses as Eva's daughter, a PhD student in 1976 Oxford coming to terms with her mother's past, while Charlotte Rampling plays the older Eva.

The Richest Songs in the World

Friday 9pm & 12.30am BBC4

Mark Radcliffe presents a countdown of the 10 songs that have earned the most money of all time along with the stories behind them – and some of the writers you will have heard of, but others not, as Radcliffe explains how music royalties work and reveals the biggest winners and losers in the history of popular music.

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