sat 19/10/2019

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa | reviews, news & interviews

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Steve Coogan's beloved alter ego makes a triumphant transition to the big screen

'I am siege face': Steve Coogan is a familiar character in an unfamiliar situation in 'Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa'

In the 1997 TV sitcom I'm Alan Partridge, Alan's nemesis, BBC commissioner Tony Hayers (David Schneider), describes his methodology as "evolution not revolution" before smugly axing Alan's chat show. It would pain Alan to hear those words again, but "evolution not revolution" perfectly describes the approach of the small screen icon’s first cinematic outing and the reason for its success. Directed by TV veteran Declan Lowney (Father Ted), Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa sees Alan at the centre of a local radio station siege.

Though he grumbles early on that he's started wearing his chubby clothes again, in Alpha Papa Alan (Steve Coogan) seems to have smartened himself up for the cinema screen. He's not a big screen action man exactly - in fact he’s not an action man at all - but he's a marginally more together figure than we've seen of late, ever so slightly more apt for the ensuing heroics. We see him enthusiastically singing along to "Cuddly Toy (Feel For Me)" by Roachford, flirting with a compatibly bad-tempered colleague, Angela (Monica Dolan), and resuming his local radio double-act with Tim Key's Sidekick Simon following their acrimonious parting on 2010's web-premiered Mid-Morning Matters. After years of stretching himself beyond his talents we seem to be witnessing a man who has found his low-profile, "shit radio" niche. (Pictured below: Coogan with Key, left, wrapped in foil)

Unfortunately things are about to go a bit Dog Day Afternoon. The corporate takeover of Alan's current place of work, North Norfolk Digital (rebranded as Shape) prompts sacked DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) to hold a group of station employees at gun-point. At Pat's request, Alan - codename Alpha Papa - is called in by police and he ends up playing the part of accomplice, co-presenter and go-between. To his delight Alan briefly becomes a media sensation, visibly enjoying his time as the "host" of the siege. However his presence is like a ticking time-bomb as Pat is unaware that his supposed ally was actually instrumental in his firing. Waiting anxiously on the outside is Alan's ever-loyal assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu, pictured below right) and Simon Greenall returns as Alan's mate Michael, now working as a security guard at the station.

After all these years, the film allows us to finally get behind Alan Gordon Partridge, so that we're no longer just laughing at him. In the past Alan has been swaddled in sympathetic circumstances (divorce as a result of his wife's adultery, career nosedives, ignominious living arrangements), but the shorter format of the talk-show, sitcoms, webisodes etc. hasn't allowed for much emotional depth - it's just been gag after beautifully written gag. And, as a character, Alan has traditionally been almost impenetrably obnoxious. The duration and tradition of film however means that Alpha Papa might be chock-full of winning gags but it's driven by story and occasionally buoyed by moments of emotion.

If other men are redeemed by their friends then Alan is redeemed by his Lynn

Yet for all that's changed he's still the same inane, irritable, bafflingly arrogant, inappropriate, wonderfully awful Alan. Running from a recent conquest at the Shape launch party he tells Lynn frantically, "She's a drunk racist. I'll tolerate one but not both." He labels Fleetwood Mac "soft-rock cocaine enthusiasts" and when he finds Michael holed up in a cupboard describes him witheringly as a "big Geordie Anne Frank".

If other men are redeemed by their friends then Alan is redeemed by his Lynn and she's brilliantly used here, with Montagu a match for the ever-excellent, big-screen-confident Coogan. Importantly, this might be the first time we've glimpsed Alan's affection for Lynn; it might be fleeting but we've waited a long time for it, and up on the big screen it's writ large. If Lynn gives the movie much of its heart she's assisted in this by the presence of Pat. It's a nice touch casting a serious, heavyweight actor in the role, as Meaney ensures that Pat is a poignant, principled counter to Alan's reliable absurdity and corporate snivelling. The man with the gun is basically a good guy in this context.

Alan Partridge first came to our attention in 1991 as an inept sports reporter on Radio 4's On the Hour and in the last couple of years was the subject of an autobiography and two hour-long specials on Sky Atlantic. So why does Partridge endure as he approaches a quarter-of-a-century in the limelight? It's because he's that perfect mix of pomposity and ignorance, because Coogan's performance remains nothing short of comic genius and because creators Coogan, Peter Baynham and Armando Iannucci have, in recent years, had the savvy to bring in new writing colleagues (Neil and Rob Gibbons) to ensure that the character remains fresh and winningly (ir)relevant for younger generations.

Despite bursts of (low-level) action, the filmmakers have stayed true to the parochial spirit of Partridge, resisting the urge to go too big, too snazzy or to pepper the film with distracting cameos; the cast is filled out by TV stalwarts or Brit film actors (Anna Maxwell Martin, Darren Boyd, Nigel Lindsay, Sean Pertwee), several of whom have entered the world of Partridge before. Although it’s energetically edited and competently helmed - far from mere point-and-shoot - the elevated aesthetic never feels out of sorts with the character's roots. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is as good a transition as fans could have hoped for - better even. As Alan would say, "Back of the net!".

Overleaf: Watch the trailer for Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Follow @EmmaSimmonds on Twitter

 

He's still the same inane, irritable, bafflingly arrogant, inappropriate, wonderfully awful Alan

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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