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Your Christmas TV guide for a holiday like no other

By Louis Shankar

Dec 22, 2020

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With Christmas ruined for many by the weekend’s sudden announcements, we find ourselves clinging to any sense of normalcy this festive season. And what better way to do so than by wrapping up warm on the sofa and tuning into some terrestrial television treats?

Doctor Who returns with another festive special—airing on New Year’s Day for the third year in a row—as does Call The Midwife, with an episode that promises a lot of drama. All the usual soaps will be delivering spectacular climaxes, particularly perennial favourites EastEnders and Coronation Street, currently celebrating its sixtieth year. And, unfortunately for many, Mrs Brown’s Boys is returning for a pair of specials for the tenth(!) year in a row.

Several shows are presenting pandemic stories: we’ve already seen Dawn French return in The Vicar of Dibley, with Geraldine presenting sermons over Zoom. A short segment on Black Lives Matter drew ire from the right—the usual columnists in The Telegraph and The Spectator reared their reactionary heads—and the BBC have reported over 100 complaints, but many viewers praised the sensitive handling of the topical subject matter on social media.

Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow, meanwhile, which stars David Mitchell as William Shakespeare, sees the Bard quarantined with Kate (Gemma Whelan) in the Great Plague of London. “William Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine, what have you done?” has been a common refrain from the über-productive since the spring; hopefully, such a premise will also provide suitable comedic material.

A one-off comedy from Tom Basden, Pandemonium, airs on the 30 December: “2020 has been an absolute nightmare for the Jessop family. To boost family morale, they decide they are going to have a summer holiday after all, even if it is in Margate in October.” It should be relatable and excruciating in equal parts, not to be missed. There are some comforting Christmas tales from several sitcoms: The Goes Wrong Show takes on the Nativity, King Gary and Motherland give us seasonal specials, and the glorious Ghosts returns with some festive flashbacks.

Strictly Come Dancing has already aired its finale—watched by over 13 million and a wonderful antidote to Saturday’s soul-crushing announcement from No. 10—but the traditional Christmas special won’t be on, due to understandable COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, they have prepared The Christmas Countdown, which will reveal “the 25 most memorable dances of all time,” as decided by a public vote.

“From the perfect 40s, the trophy-winning routines, dances that have made us laugh, and perhaps some that are remembered for other reasons,” this seems like a fair compromise. Quite a few shows are giving us such ‘best of’ festive roundups: Britain’s Got Talent are welcoming back some of the most popular contestants from the show’s 14 years; Victoria Wood: The Secret List gives us the legendary comedian’s favourite sketches, based on a list found among her effects.

Two of the most intriguing and gorgeous offerings are aimed at kids, but will undoubtedly be enjoyed by all ages. Zog and the Flying Doctors and Quentin Blake’s Clown—both adapted from much-loved kids’ books—these one-off animations have wonderful casts and stunning visuals. Zog features the voices of Lenny Henry, Rob Brydon and Patsy Ferran and airs on BBC One on Christmas Day; Clown is narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter and also airs on Christmas on Channel 4.

BBC Two has a particularly strong December lineup of comedy-documentaries: Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Christmas Fishing and The Christmas Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan have both already aired, giving us unusual festive specials that nonetheless have both heart and humour. The Last Woman on Earth With Sara Pascoe promises a similarly intriguing travelogue, as she learns “how to do the world’s most endangered jobs, from ice-carving in Finland to climbing trees to making sweets in Cuba.”

For savage and cynical takes on the year’s news, we have both Frankie Boyle’s 2020 New World Order and Death to 2020 on Netflix, from executive producers Charlie Brooker and his Black Mirror co-showrunner Annabel Jones. With an all-star cast—Hugh Grant, Samuel L. Jackson and Lisa Kudrow, among others—and supreme writing team, this spoof documentary will undoubtedly be an original take on an unprecedented year. Personally, I can’t wait for the Gogglebox review of 2020: few shows capture the zeitgeist of the nation as well as Gogglebox and no doubt their familiar cast of couch potatoes will have a lot to say about this eventful year. Hopefully, we’ll get some new content, rather than just a roundup of commentary from throughout the year.

For the quiz lovers, there’s the Christmas University Challenge, where distinguished graduates return and compete for the trophy; an Only Connect special with returning teams; and the annual Big Fat Quiz of the Year, which drew criticism for its failure to cast any female comics, instead only giving us male comedians and female celebrities.

In terms of binge-able streaming content, Netflix brings us Bridgerton on Christmas Day, the first original series from Shonda Rhimes’ nine-figure deal with the streaming service; the fourth part of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina drops on New Year’s Eve.

And, for anyone missing the thrill of live theatre, a filmed version of Colin McPherson’s Uncle Vanya—which closed prematurely in the West End this March—will be airing on BBC Four next Wednesday. Similarly, the National Theatre’s pantomime, Dick Whittington by Jude Christian and Cariad Lloyd, has been filmed and will be available for viewing on YouTube from 3 p.m. on 23 December until midnight on 27 December.

There’s more than enough to keep busy between now and the New Year, with the inescapable Annual Hootenanny and plenty of distractions to make up for cancelled fireworks displays around the country. And, looking ahead, January brings us not one but two new seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race—UK season 2, US season 13—to keep us entertained throughout whatever disasters 2021 might bring…

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Your Christmas TV guide for a holiday like no other


By Louis Shankar

Dec 22, 2020

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The 8 best French movies on Netflix France and how to access them

By Alma Fabiani

Oct 23, 2020

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Many film enthusiasts often describe French movies as beautiful—or sometimes as demoralising because of their refusal of typical American ‘happy endings’. While movies from all around the world each have their own specificities, French movies have a developed sense of aesthetics that leads many cinephiles to be drawn to them. But as fascinating as French movies are, it is also near impossible to find them online when you don’t live in France.

I truly feel your pain, I, too, wasted hours searching for a specific French movie on Google, just trying to find one good link. Look no more! I have found the perfect little helper, which is called a VPN. All you have to do is find one, download it, and ta-dah, you will then be able to watch any foreign movie you want on the biggest streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. 

Now that accessing Netflix France (or any other country’s cinema you’re into) is not a problem for you anymore, I can imagine that you’re overwhelmed by all these new options. That’s why I’ve made a list of the 8 best French movies you can only watch on Netflix France. Enjoy!

1. All That Glitters (2010)

All That Glitters, titled Tout ce qui brille in France, is a classic comedy which received overwhelming success when it was released in 2010. The debut feature film for Géraldine Nakache and Hervé Mimran, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, tells the story of Lila and Ely, two working-class best friends who live just outside of Paris and dream of a more glamorous lifestyle.

When Lila meets a group of Parisians from the luxurious 16th arrondissement, she decides to lie about where she and Ely live and gives them a fake address in Neuilly, the wealthiest and most expensive suburb of Paris. While Lila continues to lie about herself and dump her old boyfriend for a rich one called Max, Ely grows sick of her lies and both stop talking.

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Not only does this movie depict Paris and its outskirts as something more than the cliché ‘city of love’ but it also has a somewhat happy ending! Leïla Bekhti, who plays Lila in All That Glitters, won the César Award for Best Female Hope of the Year (newcomer) in 2011.

2. Love Lasts Three Years (2011)

Love Lasts Three Years, which is translated from its French title L’amour dure trois ans, is the third cinema adaptation of a book from French writer, literary critic and television presenter Frédéric Beigbeder. Despite belonging to the mundane world, Beigbeder often criticises it through his signature provocative style and his self-criticism. In his most famous book 99 francs, the writer condemns the advertising business, which he worked in for many years. In Love Lasts Three Years, Beigbeder does the same with love.

This movie is a satire of the modern world where the cynical main character called Marc Marronnier believes (and proves) that lasting love is condemned from the very beginning.

3. Fear City: A Family-Style Comedy (1994)

If you want to delve into the bizarre yet hilarious world of French comedy, then Fear City, also known as La Cité de la peur in France, is the movie for you. Written by and starring Chantal Lauby, Alain Chabat and Dominique Farrugia of the comedy group ‘Les Nuls’, and directed by Alain Berbérian in 1994, Fear City parodies big-budget American films like Basic Instinct and The Terminator by relying heavily on puns and wordplay. Non-French speakers, I must warn you first—watching this gem with English subtitles might result in a loss of wordplays, but it’s worth a watch anyway.

4. Love (2015)

Love is an erotic drama art film written and directed by Gaspar Noé which marked his fourth directorial venture after a gap of five years. It had its premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and was also released in 3D. The film is notable for its unsimulated love scenes so don’t think you can watch this at home with the rest of your family as things might get awkward very rapidly.

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As one of the sexiest French movies out there, Love was described by Noé himself as a film “that will give guys a hard-on and make girls cry.” Noé also shared that the film’s screenplay was only seven pages long. Because of its highly sexual nature, Love was refused a license to be screened in Russia.

5. All About Actresses (2009)

All About Actresses, its French title being Le Bal des actrices, is a mockumentary written and directed by Maiwenn Le Besco, which depicts a fake ‘making of’ scenario of a documentary based on her actress friends such as Charlotte Rampling, Julie Depardieu and Jeanne Balibar as well as her troubled home life with French rapper Joeystarr. A must-watch if you’re looking for a fake (but almost real) glimpse of the lives of French actresses fighting for both their own supposed integrity and the latest leading role.

6. Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct (2008)

Killer Instinct, titled Mesrine: L’instinct de mort in France, tells the true story of the notorious French gangster Jacques Mesrine, with the focus on his life before the early 1970s and the events that led to him later being declared public enemy number 1 in France. Played by Vincent Cassel—the hottest man in France according to me—Mesrine’s character is electrified by the actor’s performance.

The 2008 movie was followed by a second part, Public Enemy Number One, detailed Mesrine’s criminal career. If you’re up for a French action movie and a César Best Actor performance, then Killer Instinct followed by Public Enemy Number One are the two things you’ll need to watch.

7. RRRrrrr!!! (2004)

Probably the stupidest French movie there ever was, RRRrrrr!!! remains a classic for most French people. Directed by Alain Chabat, who was part of the previously mentioned comedy group ‘Les Nuls’, the film is set 35,000 years ago during the Stone Age and tells the story of two neighbouring tribes who have been fighting for years over a shampoo formula. While the Tribe of Clean Hair enjoys peaceful days, the Tribe of Dirty Hair laments, which leads to its leader sending a spy to steal the recipe. Meanwhile, for the first time in the history of humanity, a crime has been committed. As the tribes fight over a shampoo recipe, the first police investigation in history begins.

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8. The Sense of Wonder (2015)

The Sense of Wonder, which came out as Le Goût des merveilles in French cinemas, is a romance film written and directed by Éric Besnard that tells the story of Louise Legrand, a widow with two young children who discovers a new lease of life after she nearly runs over a stranger with her car. As cheesy as the plot sounds, I would strongly recommend this movie if you’re looking for a typical (but good) French romantic film. If you’re truly interested in expanding your knowledge of French cinema, keep in mind that any movie with Virginie Efira, who plays the lead role of Louise Legrand in The Sense of Wonder, is bound to be romantic.

In all honesty, these eight movies are only the top of the iceberg when it comes to French cinema, which is why I selected an eclectic mix of genres. Some you might love, some not, depending on your personal cinematographic preferences. But if you do end up falling in love with one of these, try to further your research by watching other movies by the same directors or with the same actors. After all, that’s what cinephiles do best and now that you know how to access any website in order to watch your favourite foreign movies, your passion will have no limits!

The 8 best French movies on Netflix France and how to access them


By Alma Fabiani

Oct 23, 2020

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