The UK channel will be showing five of his films, a BBC series from the 1950s, the famous 1982 Arena documentary and a new programme about his later career in Europe presented by his biographer Simon Callow.
Given that BBC Four is probably my favourite TV channel and Welles is one of my favourite filmmakers, this is a time to get the DVR ready.
The schedule breaks down like this:
The Orson Welles Sketchbook: This was a series of programmes by Welles originally broadcast on the BBC in 1955. Produced by Huw Wheldon, they involve Welles telling anecdotes about his life and career such as the infamous radio version of The War of the Worlds and his ground breaking theatre productions. [BBC Four / Friday 18th December at 19.30-19.45pm, Wednesday 23rd December 00:10-00:25, Thursday 24th December at 19.00-19:15, Saturday 26th December at 19.00 & Monday 28th Dec at 01.30am]
Citizen Kane (Dir. Orson Welles, 1941): Although burdened by the tag of ‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’, Welles’ debut is still an astonishingly vibrant piece of cinema that examines the life of a newspaper magnate in a series of flashbacks.
Loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, it set new standards by synthesising a raft of techniques with its use of deep focus, low angles and dazzling screenplay. Repeated viewings only confirm its ridiculous brilliance. [BBC Four / Friday 25th December at 7pm]
Arena: The Orson Welles Story: This classic two-part profile of Welles which was originally shown on the BBC in 1982. Examining his life and career in some depth, the contributors include John Huston, Robert Wise, Peter Bogdanovich, Charlton Heston, Jeanne Moreau and lengthy contributions from Welles himself. [BBC Four / Part 1 screens on Friday 25th December at 21.00 and Part 2 is on Sunday 27th at 23.00]
Journey Into Fear (Dir. Norman Foster, 1943): Adapted from the Eric Ambler novel, this tale of espionage in Istanbul during World War II this doesn’t have the same status as Kane or Ambersons.
However, Welles co-wrote the script with co-star Joseph Cotten and oversaw the production with fellow Mercury Theatre colleague Norman Foster, who was credited as director. [BBC Four / Friday 25th December, 22:50-00:00]
The Third Man (Dir. Carol Reed, 1949): One of the indisutable classics of cinema is this adaptation of Graham Greene’s story set in post-WW2 Vienna where American writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is invited by his old friend Harry Lime (Welles) only to discover he has died. Or has he?
Co-starring Allida Valli, Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee, it features a marvellous score by Anton Karras. [Saturday 26th December at 19.15-21:00]
The Magnificent Ambersons (Dir. Orson Welles, 1943): The follow up to Kane was a period drama based on the novel by Booth Tarkington, which told the story of the Ambersons, an upper-class Indianapolis family.
Brilliant in many respects, it became infamous for the studio re-editing the film whilst Welles was absent, which makes a possible re-release tantalising if the original footage can be found. [BBC Four / Sunday 27th December, 20.00-21:30]
Orson Welles Over Europe: Actor and Welles biographer Simon Callow explores Welles’ self-imposed exile in Europe in this new documentary. After alienating Hollywood, he became involved in all manner of film, theatre and television projects. [BBC Four / Sunday, Dec. 27, 21.30-22:30 (repeated at 1.45am)
The Stranger (Dir. Orson Welles, 1946): A thriller about a federal agent who has to track down an escaped Nazi war criminal, this stars Welles alongside Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young.
Although a chunk of it is missing (perhaps destroyed) and Welles wasn’t happy with the end result, it is still an intriguing film. [BBC Four / Sunday 27th December at 23.55-1:30am]