Best new movies and shows on BBC iPlayer in December 2021

Every month BBC iPlayer offers a plethora of new movies and TV shows to watch. Critic Lillian Crawford picks six of the best titles to check out in December.

Top Picks: TV

Superworm (BBC One, December 25)

Superworm is this year’s Christmas animated short, based on a book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The plot follows the title character who is kidnapped by Wizard Lizard before being rescued by his friend, Butterfly. As ever, the one-off TV special will feature the voices of several British stars including Matt Smith, Patricia Allison, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Rob Brydon, with Olivia Coleman providing narration.

This will be the ninth book by Donaldson and Scheffler to be adapted for television, following such classics as The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. Be sure to snuggle on the sofa with the family for this seasonal treat.

A Very British Scandal (BBC One, December 26)

With a screenplay by Sarah Phelps, A Very British Scandal is the story of the divorce between the Duke and Duchess of Argyll (played by Paul Bettany and Claire Foy). Set during the 1960s, the divorce became a scandal as the Duchess’s accusations against her husband included such seedy subjects as forgery, theft, violence, drugs, bribery and an explicit photograph.

The story will be told in three parts over the festive season, all directed by Anne Sewitsky. The series aims to highlight the misogyny of the press in its treatment of women, and the delight public spectators take in seeing establishment figures fall from grace.

Doctor Who (BBC One, throughout December and New Year’s Day)

Jodie Whittaker’s time in the TARDIS has come to a truly epic conclusion with the latest series, a six-part narrative entitled Flux. While the last episode is set to broadcast in early December, all of Whittaker’s episodes are available on iPlayer. And we won’t be saying goodbye to her just yet, as the festive period will end with a traditional Christmas special episode on New Year’s Day, co-starring Aisling Bea, Adjani Salmon and Pauline McLynn.

Even then she’ll be hanging around a little longer as the Thirteenth Doctor is set to feature in two more specials during 2022, including a feature-length episode next autumn in which she will regenerate into the fourteenth incarnation. In the meantime be sure to catch up on the latest series, featuring a host of favourite villains from Sontarans and Ood to Daleks and Cybermen.

Top Picks: Movies

Greta (BBC One, December 3)

A darkly hilarious modern film from director Neil Jordan, Greta is a classic horror in the vein of Stephen King about an obsessive widow. The title character is brilliantly played by Isabelle Huppert, who cranks her performance up to 11 and beyond in her pursuit of a daughter figure, embodied by Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz).

Despite being released to lukewarm reviews, the film is a macabre post-Halloween treat to sink your teeth into. Watching Huppert playing against type so horrifyingly well is glorious, and you certainly won’t look at her the same way again. Be sure to check it out while it’s on iPlayer throughout December.

An American in Paris: The Musical (BBC Four, until December 28)

While it only had a brief run at the Dominion Theatre in London, the stage adaptation of An American in Paris is one the greatest musicals based on a film. Adapted by Christopher Wheeldon, the musical adds more songs to the story than in the 1951 film and changes the arrangements to create a more dynamic experience.

This pro-shot was shown in cinemas following its London run and met with great acclaim. It’s worth watching alone for the stunning centerpiece ballet starring the incredible Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild. It’s only on iPlayer until December 28, so don’t miss out on this rare opportunity to see it.

Play For Today: Hard Labour (BBC Four, December 7)

Before even Nuts in May and Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh’s first feature was Hard Labour, directed as part of the BBC’s Play For Today series. The film has been restored by the BFI and is being shown again on BBC Four along with a series exploring the director’s influences. There’s also a season of restorations including Naked currently being screened at the BFI and across the UK.

The film stars Liz Smith in her first major role and is set in Higher and Lower Broughton, Salford, where Leigh grew up. It also features performances from Alison Steadman, Bernard Hill and Ben Kingsley in early appearances. Look out for more films from the series as they appear more regularly on BBC iPlayer.