8 Best TV Progammes over Christmas.

Bonnie and Clyde.

Bon­nie and Clyde.

What with dig­i­tal top box­es, VOD and the var­i­ous Play­ers and the gen­er­al box set cul­ture that has done so much to trans­form tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming and watch­ing, the Christ­mas TV sched­ule isn’t, inevitably, what it was once was. Nev­er­the­less, this year’s offer­ings seem espe­cial­ly dull.

Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Here are 8 of the very few things on offer to dis­tract you from the annu­al rows, indul­gence and over-stim­u­la­tion. In chrono­log­i­cal order, set the Record for:

1. Sun­day Dec 22nd BBC1 5:15pm, Alice In Won­der­land. Clas­sic Dis­ney, from a prelap­sar­i­an age when car­toons were made with play­ful­ness and wit. Not a les­son in sight.

2. Sun­day Dec 22nd BBC2 10pm, Trans­la­tions. A look at Bri­an Friel’s most endur­ing play, and one of the very few inter­est­ing to things to emerge from the Irish stage in the last few decades.

3. Sun­day Dec 22nd RTE 2 11:50 Bon­nie And Clyde (1967), War­ren Beat­ty and Faye Dun­away in Arthur Penn’s famous­ly amoral biopic. The US indie film move­ment that saw the likes of Cop­po­la, Scors­ese, Towne, Schrad­er, Ash­by (see below) et al emerge in the 70s begins here.

Jack Nicholson in "The Last Detail".

Jack Nichol­son in “The Last Detail”.

4. Christ­mas Eve RTE1 9:30pm Irish Pic­to­r­i­al Week­ly (reviewed ear­li­er here). Last in series. Not to be missed. Shock hor­ror, an Irish com­e­dy that’s actu­al­ly fun­ny and is aimed un-apolo­get­i­cal­ly at a triple dig­it IQ.

5. Sun­day Dec 29th BBC4 8pm, Christ­mas Lec­tures 2013: Life Fan­tas­tic, Alli­son Wool­lard gives a talk on Nat­ur­al Selection.

6. New Year’s Eve BBC4 8pm, Kind Hearts and Coro­nets (1949), Alec Guin­ness plays the 8 rel­a­tives keep­ing Den­nis Price from what’s right­ful­ly his.

The only must watch on British TV.

The only must watch on British TV.

7. New Year’s Eve, BBC1, 10:15pm, the Gra­ham Nor­ton Show. Still the best way to kick off any New Year’s Eve.

8. Thurs­day Jan 2nd/Fri Jan 3rd. Film 4 01:30am, The Last Detail (1973), Jack Nichol­son (reviewed ear­li­er here) in Hal Ashby’s engross­ing and qui­et­ly mov­ing low-key drama.

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Jack Nicholson’s Regal Purple Patch and “The King Of Marvin Gardens”.

Jack Nicholson with Bruce Dern

Jack Nichol­son with Bruce Dern

You can judge a man by the com­pa­ny he keeps. And noth­ing defines an actor quite as dis­tinct­ly as the roles he choses and the direc­tors he decides to work with.

In the eight years between 1969 and ’76 Jack Nichol­son made fif­teen films, nine of which make for a tru­ly remark­able roll call. And even the six among them that don’t quite work reveal an excep­tion­al if rest­less intelligence.

He began in 1969, with the sem­i­nal and still sur­pris­ing­ly watch­able Easy Rid­er. And fin­ished up in 1976 with The Mis­souri Breaks, where he plays a con­ven­tion­al, down to earth cow­boy to his great friend Mar­lon Brando’s law­less maverick.

Bran­do was the only actor who pos­sessed an even greater tal­ent, and whose spir­it was even less secure­ly moored. It’s hard­ly sur­pris­ing that the pair should have grav­i­tat­ed toward one another.

In between, he played the cocky misog­y­nist in Car­nal Knowl­edge for Mike Nichols in ’71. The salt of the earth sailor in Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail in ’73. The down at heel pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor, try­ing to stay afloat in a sea of cor­rup­tion in Polanski’s peer­less Chi­na­town in ’74. The intro­spec­tive exis­ten­tial­ist in Antonioni’s The Pas­sen­ger in ’75. And the arche­typ­al non—conformist in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, also in ’75.

Jack Nicholson with Faye Dunaway in Chinatown.

Jack Nichol­son with Faye Dun­away in Chinatown.

And amongst all of which, he made two films with Bob Rafel­son. The more famous of which was Five Easy Pieces in 1970, where he plays a man who is in many ways a com­bi­na­tion of all of the above. A bril­liant pianist who turns his back on his bour­geois upbring­ing to take to the road and head west, in the vain hope of giv­ing his life direc­tion and meaning.

The fol­low­ing year he paired up with Rafel­son again, in The King Of Mar­vin Gar­dens. This time he plays an intel­lec­tu­al whose only out­let are the week­ly broad­casts he makes on night-time radio to his hand­ful of faith­ful listeners.

Jack Nicholson with Marlon Brando in The Missouri Breaks.

Jack Nichol­son with Mar­lon Bran­do in The Mis­souri Breaks.

But he’s lured east to Atlanta by his broth­er, played by Bruce Dern, in pur­suit of the Amer­i­can dream. But that, as every­body knows, lies west. And all he finds instead is a rain-trod­den, out of sea­son, sea­side pur­ga­to­ry. And from there, the only way is down.

All of the above are out­stand­ing films in their own right. Each and every one of them, and they all mer­it repeat­ed view­ings. And those nine per­for­mances of his exhib­it a stag­ger­ing range, remark­able depth and an incred­i­ble deter­mi­na­tion to work with the most excit­ing and chal­leng­ing peo­ple he could find. More than any­thing else, it shows an unri­valled will­ing­ness to explore the Greek max­im inscribed above the ancient tem­ple at Delphi;

Know thy­self.

The King Of Mar­vin Gar­dens is on at the end of May in the IFI in Dublin. And, if there’s any jus­tice in the world, at a cin­e­ma near you.

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