Morgan Freeman’s US president exudes calm authority, even as a massive comet hurtles towards Earth in this slick disaster movie.

Mankind’s only hope of survival is Robert Duvall’s Messiah spacecraft, which is loaded with nuclear bombs ready to blast the rock to bits.

Meanwhile, TV reporter Téa Leoni covers the breaking story and Freeman announces a lottery to select the lucky few to be sent underground during the ensuing two years of darkness should the worst happen.

Though slow to start, Mimi Leder’s movie gradually builds up a great level of suspense and it is surprisingly gut-wrenching, with emotional moments of heroism and sacrifice.

Also among the fretful faces are Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, James Cromwell, Leelee Sobieski, Dougray Scott and Jon Favreau.

This film starts at 7.10pm on BBC2 Northern Ireland.