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A great horse story for the holidays, and true

A week that began with an animal, the monkey fella, making international headlines now ends with … horses! And it's a helluva good animal story.

The Horses of McBride (Sunday, CTV, 7 p.m.) is loosely based on a real story that many of you will remember. In December of 2008, two pack horses were seen trapped in snow and apparently starving near the top of Mount Renshaw in British Columbia. A local man went close to the horses and found they were unlikely to be able to get out of their situation without major help.

He told his family. His father and sister came up with a plan and, with the help of the local community, a trench more than a mile long was dug through the snow to rescue the horses. The horses made it out, slept in a warm barn on Christmas Eve and were eventually adopted.

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In the movie version (written and directed by Anne Wheeler), the situation is rooted in a complex family situation. Matt Davidson (Aidan Quinn, now seen every week on CBS as the New York cop on Elementary), a man in the cowboy-outfitter business in remote B.C., has decided to sell his family ranch and find work in the city, just as the story opens. The remoteness is underlined by Matt's mention that his family doesn't have the Internet, there's no service, so he can't finalize the move by e-mail.

His wife Avril (Kari Matchett) and son Kenny (Edward Ruttle) are ready to move, but his daughter Nicki (MacKenzie Porter) is furious. She sees herself as the one who would eventually inherit her father's business. It's Nicki who is deeply moved by the plight of the horses. Her dad says it's too dangerous to go near them, but Nicki perseveres. Just as she insists that the family should not be moving into town: "There is nothing better than this!" she declares in the cold and whipping wind. When she finds the two stranded horses, she picks up a shovel and just starts moving snow.

The Horses of McBride is good, a better-than-average feel-good holiday movie. That's largely thanks to the raw emotions found in the script and a cast skilled enough to imbue the story with genuine drama as well as warmth. There are also some welcome flashes of humour – a vet who arrives on the scene is unprepared for the weather and announces that he specializes in dolphins. There is also a nifty scene in which an intrepid reporter from The Globe and Mail shows up at the remote Davidson ranch.

Gorgeously made, with fine but not ostentatious respect for the landscape, the movie is far from holiday-season fluff. It has elements of danger (wolves surround the horses and the rescuers), and there is a mystery subplot about the search for the owner of the horses. Quinn is excellent as the gruff mountain man whose common sense can melt into sentimentality, and MacKenzie Porter (who also gets to show off, briefly, her talent as a musician) has to carry a good deal of the drama, which she does with aplomb. The movie is a pleasure to watch.

Also airing this weekend

Homeland (Sunday, SuperChannel, 10 p.m.) reaches its season finale. And what a season it has been. After a strong return in early episodes, Homeland maddened some viewers with baroque twists and turns. For some, the subtlety and nuance of the cat-and-mouse game between the CIA, the FBI and Brody (Damian Lewis) was gone. Also, of course, Carrie (Claire Danes) seemed to be in permanent meltdown, and while there are few flights of acting more impressive than Danes doing fierceness followed by a crying jag, the utterly perverse nature of her relationship with Brody disturbed people. The show is still outstanding, an example of the finesse and strength of cable-TV storytelling. Sometimes, a drama a should disturb people a lot. Recently, Lewis has joked that the show might as well kill off Brody. A joke or a telegram about another shocking warp in the narrative?

All times ET. Check local listings.

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