South Bank salvation

With all the dreadful films that are traditionally shown on television at this time of year, the only solution for many is a Christmas trip to the NFT
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Christmas is traditionally the season for homebound, mince-pie bloaters to warm themselves in front of the telly, gorging themselves on classic movies, James Bond and dodgy Stone Age adventures. So, during Advent, film companies tend to wind down themselves, hoarding their big releases for the January screen sales and putting out a more modest diet of holiday fare.

In the coming weeks Prince Valiant, George of the Jungle, Home Alone 3 and Spice World The Movie all pander to the schoolage cineaste, while Tomorrow Never Dies provides fodder for next year's Christmas TV schedules. If you're reluctant to hole up in front of the box so soon, the National Film Theatre offers a big screen alternative. All right, so the programme contains its fair share of Christmas comforts - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Sun 14 Dec), Little Women (Sun 21 Dec) and a Wallace and Gromit triple- bill (Tue 23 Dec, Sun 28 Dec) are all brightly packaged parcels of good cheer, but dig a little deeper and you'll find some more unusual treats.

The NFT is screening Hitchock's Vertigo (Wed 17 Dec, Fri 19 Dec, Sun 28 Dec), an unwholesome romance that makes the perfect antidote to the seasonal lashings of merriment. Dealing with obsession, misogyny, guilt and emotional manipulation, the only bells Hitchcock's dark melodrama will jingle are ones of fear and morbid fascination. Or why not napalm those Christmas blues with a trip to see Apocalypse Now (Wed 17 Dec, Fri 19 Dec) which, with its hellish portrait of the Vietnam War, should reassure the most Scrooge-like cinephile that there are worse things than a family Christmas.

Along with such coruscating, anti-Christmas fare there are re-runs of such adult feel-good films as Shine, above, (Sat 20 Dec 7.30pm, Museum Cinema, Sun 21 Dec 8.45pm, NFT1, Sat 27 Dec 8.30pm NFT2), which tells the story of troubled musical genius David Helfgott, and The English Patient (Tue 30 Dec 8pm NFT1, Wed 31 Dec 2.45pm NFT1), Anthony Minghella's desert- bound weepy. And if none of these can tempt you away from your sherry, the NFT has a re-release of Orson Welles's Magnificent Ambersons (27-31 December), gift-wrapped in a shiny new print. Made by cinema's most famous protege when he was just 26-years-old, this elaborate and intelligent period drama had a disastrous preview screening on its first release, leading Welles' studio RKO to chop 50 minutes from the film and tack on a sentimental ending directed by Freddie Fleck.

Mourning his mutilated masterpiece, Welles pronounced that the studio had "destroyed the whole heart of the picture". In fact, what remains is a sophisticated and technologically innovative film, second only in achievement to his earlier Citizen Kane. Based on the novel by Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons centres on the unspeakable young George Amberson, and charts the downfall of arrogant old money in the face of the new democratising wealth of industry. Its easiness of style disguises a wealth of preparation, with Welles subtly refining many of the ideas he so brashly patented in Kane. Over-lapping, naturalistic dialogue and improvised scenes are counterbalanced by Welles's finely-tuned framing and editing, as his voluble stars are captured in long, elegant takes, reflected in polished furniture, mirrors, and window panes, pictured in ominous shadow, or thrown into relief by deep-focus photography.

"Orson Welles devotes 9,000 feet of film to a spoiled brat, who grows up as a spoiled, spiteful young man," was Variety's succinct summation on its release, but there's more to the film than that. Shot through with directorial brilliance and nostalgia, it is a costume drama of a quality you're unlikely to see on telly this Christmas.

NFT (0171-633 0274)

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