Christmas 2020: The 10 best films to watch on TV and stream

From Dawn French as Beatrix Potter to Hugh Grant getting Paddington Bear jailed, here are 10 of the best films to watch this Christmas

<p>Christmas film highlights: Paddington 2, Soul, Wonder Woman and Phantom Thread</p>

Christmas film highlights: Paddington 2, Soul, Wonder Woman and Phantom Thread

With outdoor activities more or less cancelled this Christmas, films fill the festive gap more than ever. Luckily for us, there’s a vast array of options at your disposal this December.

There’s also something for everyone – from family movies for the kids to serial killer thrillers for your weird cousins, straight through to the legendarily awful for those whose Christmas you wish to ruin.

The Independent has surveyed the schedules of everything from terrestrial television to brand new streaming services we barely knew existed this time last year, and selected 10 of the must-see films available to watch, stream or rent.

Happiest Season (2020)

From 19 December on Sky Cinema and NOW TV

This festive romcom broke the internet last month, sparking praise and a raft of contrarian think pieces from American viewers. Now Brits get a chance to see what all the fuss was about. Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis star as a queer couple forced to stay closeted while visiting Davis’s conservative parents for Christmas. Arriving on Sky Cinema and NOW TV this week, it is the highlight of a surfeit of Sky premieres in December – among them Little Women, Emma and Trolls World Tour. There’s also Cats, which is perfect for when you’re a couple of drinks in.

Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread (2017)

23 December, 10pm on BBC Two

Paul Thomas Anderson’s dreamy masterpiece has a single scene set on New Year’s Eve, so this basically counts as a Christmas film. Daniel Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville headline a seductive, enigmatic romance involving a fashion designer and his muse. It’s at turns kinky, moving and incredibly funny. Fabulous gowns, too.

Paddington 2 (2017)

Christmas Eve, 4.15pm on BBC One

The Hugh Grant renaissance began here, with the British star delivering a cheeky, mocking and scene-stealing performance in this winning sequel. He’s a vain, past-it thespian who tangles with the titular bear over a stolen treasure map and stays charming even after his schemes lead Paddington to a prison stint. This is a wholesome and joyous modern classic, and just the right kind of wintery silliness for Christmas.

Dawn French in Roald & Beatrix

Roald and Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse (2020)

Christmas Eve, 8.15pm on Sky One (and available on NOW TV from Christmas Eve onwards)

The strange-but-true meeting between a six-year-old Roald Dahl and his hero Beatrix Potter is dramatised in this heartwarming Sky film. Dawn French plays the famed Peter Rabbit author, with young Harry Tayler as Dahl. Based on the trailer at least, this looks genuinely magical, full of surreal animation, steam trains and snow-covered gardens.

Soul (2020)

From Christmas Day on Disney+

While Soul was sadly shunted from a cinema release due to the pandemic, there is something sweet about it arriving on your laptop as an unexpected Christmas Day treat. Pixar’s latest emotional rollercoaster is more on the Inside Out end of their company spectrum, and by all accounts a loving tribute to jazz and identity. Jamie Foxx voices a music teacher whose soul gets separated from his body, while his supporting cast ranges from the sublime (Tina Fey, David Diggs and Angela Bassett!) to the bizarre (Graham Norton?).

Early Man is a prehistoric comedy

Early Man (2018)

Christmas Day, 1.15pm on BBC One

This caveman comedy was slightly overlooked when it hit cinemas in 2018, despite its Aardman Animation pedigree. It’s worth revisiting this Christmas, if only to marvel at its unusual (yet successful) blend of sports movie, slapstick Flintstones pastiche and Brexit allegory.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Boxing Day, 6.40pm on BBC One

As if grown in a lab especially for your grandparents to watch on Boxing Day, it’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! Once you look past the occasionally cloying tweeness dripping from its every corner, this period romance is sweetly absorbing. Lily James is the restless novelist entering into a chaste affair with a studly farmer she corresponds with through letters. There’s also a mystery, a book club, stiff-upper-lip Brits and lots and lots of pies. Just go with it.

Fionn Whitehead as Tommy in Dunkirk

Dunkirk (2017)

Boxing Day, 9.05pm on BBC One

Christopher Nolan’s Second World War actioner is, narratively speaking, a walk in the park compared to this summer’s Tenet. A reminder that Nolan doesn’t have to write needlessly labyrinthian epics, it takes place on, above and around the beach at Dunkirk, and serves as a thrilling tribute to wartime bravery.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

27 December, 10.40pm on ITV One

Satisfying the Grinches in your life this Christmas is a welcome showing of The Silence of the Lambs. This Thomas Harris adaptation is a skin-crawling classic. It stars a never-better Jodie Foster as the rookie FBI agent proving her strength, Anthony Hopkins as the slithery cannibal she turns to for help, and Ted Levine as one of cinema’s all-time creepiest killers.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (2017)

29 December, 7.30pm on ITV One

Wonder Woman’s sequel hits cinemas this month (depending on what tier your city is in), ahead of a digital release in early 2021, so there’s no better time to revisit its enjoyable predecessor. A nice break from the wall-to-wall horror that was the early DC Cinematic Universe, Patty Jenkins’s majestic superhero tale is a pleasing mix of frothy and grandiose. Gal Gadot stars as the lasso-wielding Amazon with superhuman powers.

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