Title: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Director: Declan Lowney
Major Players: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Anna Maxwell Martin
Out of five? Four
When a sports reporter with zilch knowledge of the subject was launched on the radio over twenty years ago, nobody could have foreseen that this Motty sound-a-like would become a national comic treasure. But he was, of course, Alan Partridge, whose career reached the dizzy heights of the TV chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You and then plummeted to his less than illustrious return to his Norfolk roots in I’m Alan Partridge. More recently, he’s been seen on YouTube in Mid-Morning Matters, so this man for all media had pretty much done it all. Except that he hadn’t made a movie. Until now!
Alan presents Mid-Morning Matters at North Norfolk Digital, which is taken over by Gordale Media and re-branded Shape, with the synthetic strapline ‘the way you want it to be’. The takeover means cuts and the main casualty is Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), host of the folksy late night slot. It’s the last straw for Pat, who takes the station’s staff hostage at gunpoint during the launch party and will only communicate with the police through Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), who he believes is his friend, but was actually responsible for his sacking. And Partridge, of course, wants to make sure that Pat never finds out.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa has been a long time coming, with various potential scenarios considered and rejected: in the end it’s been kept small, tight and local. And, even better, it’s relentlessly funny: I laughed myself silly and so did the rest of the audience at the preview screening I attended. In fact, I may have to see it a second time as I’m sure there were gags I missed because of my own laughter and/or that of other people. Ain’t life tough? The gag count is amazingly high, be it verbal, visual, cringe making, observational, a mere look or gesture or any combo.
Partridge is there is all his glory – vain, weak, petty, pedantic and tactless – but what makes Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa so fresh and so funny is the arrival of new writers and a new director. With Armando Iannucci in the States working on Veep, the director’s job went to Declan Lowney, a Father Ted regular, and he approaches the project purely as a stand-alone film, avoiding the usual TV-to-film transfer trap of producing an over-stretched episode. And it works a treat.
The script comes from newbies Neil and Rob Gibbons, who’d never written for Partridge before but instinctively get the joke and have produced a fast, funny and engaging screenplay. Introducing new talent in this way is both courageous and inspired but it’s taken Partridge to a new level, even though he’s reached the grand age of 55 – and we’re never allowed to forget that small but, for Alan, important fact.
Do you have to be a Partridge fan to enjoy it? Not necessarily. It doesn’t trade heavily on ‘in’ jokes and, if you haven’t seen some of the regulars before, it won’t prevent you from enjoying the ride. But for Partridge fans – and I count myself among them – it’s sheer gold. His support crew are all there, in the shape of the long-suffering Lynn, Michael the unintelligible Geordie and the more recent arrival, Sidekick Simon. There’s some new faces, too, among the station staff, especially Phil Cornwell, who has a ball as a presenter with a list as long as your arm of personal problems – and whose therapy is to talk about them incessantly to anybody and everybody, including his show’s audience.
But, ultimately, this is Partridge’s/Steve Coogan’s film and they both carry it with aplomb and ease, playing it perfectly straight.
We seem to be living in an age of sequels, which raises the inevitable question of an Alpha Papa II. The official line is that there’s no plans for one, but it’s a fair bet it’s been discussed at some stage. And the film leaves enough unanswered questions to provide a possible springboard. But, given the length of time it’s taken to bring Partridge to the big screen, and the quality of the finished product, there can’t – and shouldn’t -be any rush. Perhaps Alan as a pensioner in ten years’ time …..?
In the meantime, what we have is an extremely funny, totally British comedy to savour. It is, as Iannucci says, the film that Alan would have wanted.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is released in cinemas around the UK on Wednesday, 7 August.