Tweed, Tramps and Lycra
Cooke, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)
Are you Downton, or Midwife? Officially, I'm neither. Call the Midwife is dumb and Downton Abbey is dumber. But at Christmas, one must make an exception, or risk looking like even more of a snooty bluestocking than usual. So I'm going to say Downton (Christmas Day, 8.45pm, ITV1), on the grounds that, this year, Lord Snooty (Julian Fellowes) really has pulled out all the stops, having decided to send his toffs up to Scotland for a spot of shooting at Duneagle Castle, the home of Shrimpie Flintshire (Peter Egan) and his wife, Susan (Phoebe Nicholls).
We are promised much tweed and heather--and, presumably, the news that the drippy Matthew has finally managed to get Lady Plank well and truly up the duff. It sounds a bit like Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding, only minus the wit, and I think I can probably cope with that, assuming I've had enough sloe gin.
If you're going to be all refusnik about this, there are classier offerings elsewhere. In Loving Miss Hatto (23 December, 8.30pm, BBC1), Francesca Annis plays the dying woman whose husband, William Barrington-Coupe (Alfred Molina), duped the world into thinking she was a virtuoso pianist; and in The Girl (Boxing Day, 9pm, BBC2), Sienna Miller is Tippi Hedren to Toby Jones's Alfred Hitchcock in a film about obsession and the destruction of a young career.
The BBC is also dishing up a two-part adaptation of William Boyd's spy thriller Restless (27 and 28 December, 9pm, BBC1), starring Hayley Atwell and Rufus Sewell. All are likely to be good, though Loving Miss Hatto will probably nudge it, both for the sympathetic writing (it's by Victoria Wood) and for Rory Kinnear's performance as the young Barrington-Coupe (a faultless impersonation, in other words, of Alfred Molina).
If there are children in the house--and perhaps even if there aren't--you will want to watch Mr Stink (December 23, 6.3opm, BBC1), a glorious adaptation of David Walliams's novel of the same name, with a cast to die for: Hugh Bonneville, Sheridan Smith, Johnny Vegas. It's about a tramp who befriends a lonely girl; Bonneville, having thrown off all that itchy tweed, is the tramp. Aha, you'll think. So he can still act, after all.
* As for comedy, Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash are, it seems, determined to keep flogging the dead horse that is The Royle Family (Christmas Day, 9 . …