Steve Coogan’s brilliant creation Alan Partridge successfully makes the leap to the big screen. There’s a hostage situation at North Norfolk Radio & there’s only man who can save the day.
Did Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, the film based on the popular Steve Coogan-fronted television comedy series, live up to my heightened expectations? As a huge fan of the show featuring the eponymous character, a feature film extension to Alan Partridge’s life brought gleeful anticipation and an element of fear in me. Could a movie be as good as episodic thirty-minute made-for-TV situation comedy? Could Coogan’s character make the leap from the small screen to the big? Would the grander stage and narrative help or hinder? The answer is in my quote for the poster: “I loved it!”
The film picks up the story of Alan, the egotistical pseudo-intellectual radio disc jockey, following his employment by North Norfolk Radio as its mid-morning talk show host. The events follow chronologically from the six-part Mid-Morning Matters series, which was shown on Sky Atlantic in the UK. In it, Partridge interviews guests alongside co-host Sidekick Simon (Tim Key), fittingly finding pitfalls and faux pas in almost everything he does. In Alpha Papa, Alan remains in the hot seat for the mid-morning show but faces losing his job after the radio station is acquired by a multinational conglomerate. Advising his new bosses that fellow DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) is the man they need to cut ties with, Farrell is consequently sacked only to return to the studio to hold the new management and fellow employees at gunpoint. Can Alan save the day?
With police units, hostage negotiators, and the media descending on the radio station’s head office, Alpha Papa is immediately recognisable as something much bigger for Alan Partridge. Whereas the television shows loosely followed plots in which the character was placed in many hilarious situations (usually involving Alan, figuratively, digging holes for himself in a variety of social settings, the result culminating in failed attempts to extricate himself), here we see a much larger stage. Yet, the writing team, which includes Coogan and long-term collaborators Armando Iannucci and Peter Baynham, know this character better than they know their own children. There isn’t an ounce of fat padding things out while the situation comedy is well-judged, balanced with the narrative and unsurprisingly very funny.
For fans of the show they even have a few nice surprises up their sleeves with Alan’s timid, long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) returning to the screen after sitting the Mid-Morning Matters series out, while acquaintance Michael (Simon Greenall) shows up after finding employment with the radio station as its screw-loose security guard. Tim Key, the politically incorrect co-host of Alan’s show, takes a backseat and is probably a little underused as there’s no denying he’s a talented comedian, but that’s less of problem thanks to the introduction of the excellent Colm Meaney. Meaney is the aging disc jockey whose polite, discreet nature suddenly implodes to reveal a gun-toting hostage taker. Meaney’s perfect balance of defiance and rage alongside moments of calm retrospect makes him as lovable as Alan, meaning we get two anti-heroes for the price of one.
But of course, Steve Coogan is the one we’ve all bought the ticket to see. And, yet again, he excels. It helps that he created Alan Partridge himself, and that he’s had two decades to perfect and rehearse, but there are few comic creations as well-rounded or authentic, enveloping pathos to bring out moments of sheer joy and laughter amid an ever-present undercurrent of tragedy. Certainly, no one is as adorably unlovable as Alan, or, in any shape, way or form, as funny.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa might not be better Alan, but it sure is bigger. The grander stage for this small-screen creation never gets in the way of the character’s continual pursuit of success no matter who he squashes along the way. The film will have no problem satisfying the demands of fans, while the enjoyable fish-out-of-water tale, that works perfectly as a stand-alone story, will surely ignite new passion from audiences yet to enjoy the delights of Coogan’s earlier work.