Starring: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Sean Pertwee
You may like this if you like: Everything on TV that has involved Partridge, In the Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009), Mutiny on the Buses (Harry Booth, 1972)
Things are changing at North Norfolk Digital, (North) Norfolk’s most popular digital radio station and home of course to embittered former BBC broadcaster and faux pas specialist Alan Partridge. Now a new company intend to rename the radio station ‘Shape’ and attract a slightly younger demographic than normal, which means letting go of some of the more ‘veteran’ DJs. After seeing that the shortlist for the chop involves himself and Pat Farrell (Meaney), Alan typically does an impromptu presentation stating ‘Just Sack Pat’. The directors do indeed sack Pat and at the stations launch party Pat turns up with a shotgun and takes everyone hostage (as you do). Having been outside and the only one Pat will talk to (as his ‘friend’), Alan is now back in the limelight, and more importantly back on television. Has he still got the presenting skills and natural screen presence to stop Pat? As well as making sure Pat never knows the truth?
It is a commonly known fact that the whole TV to film transition has had many casualties due to the fact (among others) that the narrative structure of a film contains character arcs, narrative closure and the likes. Well, thankfully with Alpha Papa this is not only a very smooth transition, but in my view one of the funniest films I have seen for a long time. As a huge Partridge fan this was a huge sigh of relief for me. When we say transition, for me the main reason that Alpha Papa works so well is that there is very little transition. We have not left the comfortable confines of Norfolk and are simply just carrying off from Mid Morning Matters. Though having five writers can often be recipe for disaster, having Coogan himself and original series creators Peter Baynham and Armando Ianucci there to oversee Neil and Rob Gibbon’s screenplay may be partly down to this surprisingly smooth transition.
As soon as the opening credits show while we watch Alan driving along listening to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ we reassuringly know things have not changed. The formula for the character of Alan has been undiluted and the reasons why so many find him endearing are there to be seen throughout. It would have been so easy to produce a middle of the road comedy with predictably and flat gags (Paul) or self indulgent and complacent claptrap (The World’s End), but Coogan, Ianucci and co are better than that.
The choices of music throughout are inspired (even the theme tune to Ski Sunday is there) and are textbook Alan, and there are plenty of classic radio jingles and all the usual dialogue that we all love the character for. Another good move is that all the favourite characters are there as well; not just Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) from Mid Morning Matters but from the earlier I’m Alan Partridge PA Lynn (Felicity Montagu), Geordie pal Michael (Simon Greenall) and fellow DJ Dave Clifton (Phil Cornwell). Each character’s inclusion justified as they all get their moments to shine along with the on form Coogan and an excellent turn from Colm Meaney. Though apart from being a name on the poster, why Sean Pertwee is there in a few scenes is a little beyond me.
Whereas it would have been so easy to churn out a complacent and lazy film relying on the popularity of Partridge, it is obvious a lot of time and effort has gone into not just the writing, but the entire making of this film. The script itself is extremely sharp, with effective gags and vintage Alan lines coming faster than in Airplane. It is not just Coogan that gets all the good lines either, the aforementioned supporting cast get some great lines too. As well as the great musical choices, there is great attention to detail in terms of set design and the filming locations giving a distinctive English feel to proceedings.
As the narrative develops things do get admittedly increasingly farfetched, but due to the high gag rate this is forgivable, as the laughs keep coming thick and fast making sure things never lose momentum. Despite the low key setting and very British weather, director Declan Lowney does make things feel cinematic. This did not look out of place on the big screen and there is some good editing and visual gags. When the action goes on the road and leaves Norwich for, erm Cromer, there is enough visual flair to remind us that we are indeed watching a film.
So, perhaps the middle third goes a little flat at times and there are a few scenes, including a dream sequence that didn’t quite work in my view. However, apart from that this is a consistently hilarious film that will not disappoint Partridge fans, but is also accessible enough for newcomers. There are also some surprisingly emotional parts of the story, they are thankfully kept to a minimum, but are subtly effective. This truly is no mean feat, and all those involved with the making of Alpha Papa deserve full credit for what they have achieved, as it would have taken a lot of hard work to produce this film and make it just as genuinely funny as it is.
Sharp, quotable and vintage Alan; Alpha Papa sees Partridge make a seemingly effortless transition to the big screen and produces what has to be by far one of the year’s funniest films. Back of the net!