This was the Christmas when the #MeToo movement left a gaping hole in the TV schedules and, fittingly, it was filled by women.
For the past two years, the BBC has run a flagship Agatha Christie whodunit – skilfully scripted by playwright Sarah Phelps, sumptuously produced by Mammoth Screen (makers of Poldark and Victoria) and boasting an all-star cast – across several evenings to huge critical acclaim and hefty ratings.
This year’s Queen of Crime offering, Ordeal by Innocence, was filmed and ready to go, before being shelved last month when its star, Ed Westwick, was accused of a number of sexual assaults (he has denied the allegations). It led to a hasty rejigging of the Christmas bill of fare by the broadcaster’s scheduling elves.
This shuffle resulted in a schedule where female solidarity, strength and friendship were brought to the fore.
Replacing Ordeal by Innocence in the plum 9pm-on-Boxing-Day berth was the atmospheric adaptation of Jessie Burton’s bestselling novel The Miniaturist (BBC One), an unsettling candlelit mystery about a house of secrets in 17th-century Amsterdam.
Running across two nights, it was slow and stately but undeniably mesmerising. Anya Taylor-Joy, the 21-year-old rising star, wowed as plucky protagonist Nella. Exquisite production design meant that every frame resembled a Vermeer painting. The ending, like the book’s, was frustratingly ambiguous but the journey was an enjoyable one.
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As a result of its promotion up the pecking order, The Miniaturist formed a double bill of bonnet-clad literary girl power with Little Women (BBC One). This, handsomely shot, three-part adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s coming-of-age classic was the jewel in the crown of this female-dominated Christmas.
As ever, you soon found yourself rooting for tomboyish proto-feminist Jo March (Maya Hawke, the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, showing her thespian pedigree). The sparky screenplay by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas avoided sentimentality, with just enough grit to keep you gripped. A splash of mud on the hem of the petticoat, if you will.
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More unabashedly twee was Mary, Mel and Sue’s Big Christmas Thank You (BBC One) on Christmas Eve, which found the former Bake Off buddies reunited. “Bezza!” cried Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as queen of cakes Mary Berry joined them on a road trip to the Rhondda Valley. There, they helmed a heartwarming cross between DIY SOS and Challenge Anneka by throwing a party for austerity-hit residents and giving a makeover to a volunteer-run community centre. The old tent trio pulled off this paean to people power with infectious charm.
On the big day, Call the Midwife (BBC One) delivered another quietly absorbing special, set during the big freeze of 1962. This snow-covered tale took in romance, reconciliation, a miracle birth and an affecting guest turn from Anita Dobson. I’ll wager tears were sploshing into Quality Street tins across the nation.
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Replacing Downton Abbey in ITV’s “two-hour period drama” slot, Victoria: Comfort & Joy (ITV) had the classy production values but not the gallery of beloved characters to carry a feature-length edition. Still, led by a spirited Jenna Coleman as the young monarch, it was jolly enough.
Christmas night was rounded off by 300 Years of French & Saunders (BBC One). Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders celebrated their double act’s 30th anniversary with greatest hits and new sketches. It was a daft delight to have them back, more than a decade after their last festive special.
Yes, women ruled the airwaves this Christmas. Katie Derham won the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special (BBC One). Endearingly dotty Val Stones stole the show in The Great Christmas Bake Off (Channel 4). Even the time-travelling hero of Doctor Who (BBC One) turned into a woman, as Jodie Whittaker, complete with Yorkshire accent, took over the Tardis controls from craggy Peter Capaldi.