DIR: Declan Lowney WRI: Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons DOP: Ben Smithard ED: Mark Everson DES: Dick Lunn Cast: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu, Sean Pertwee, Simon Delaney, Simon Greenall
If you were to analyse it from a critical standpoint, you would have to come to the conclusion that the history of British TV comedies transferring to the big-screen has been rather patchy. While there have been plenty of successes down through the years – the various films by the Monty Python crew being obvious examples – there have also been plenty of failed attempts to embody the spirit that was initially captured in its original format.
2002’s Ali G Indahouse was a misfire, and as recently as last year, we had Keith Lemon: The Film, which featured prominently on the ‘Worst Of 2012’ lists for many notable film critics.
Whenever films of this nature are released, there is always a huge amount of expectation from the loyal fans who helped to make the television series so popular in the first place, and it is no surprise that they are met with such derision when the finished product falls below the standards that were originally set.
The same sort of anticipation surrounds the arrival of Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s most celebrated creation, to the silver screen for the first time in the intriguingly titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, which finds the narcissistic Norwich broadcaster hosting Mid Morning Matters alongside his trusty ally, Side-Kick Simon (Tim Key).
Unlike films like Bean (the first of two cinematic outings for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean), Borat and Bruno (the latter two proving more successful for the aforementioned Sacha Baron Cohen), Coogan and his team of writers have resisted the temptation for sending Partridge to America (and thus making this a ‘fish out of water’ tale), and have instead kept him in the familiar terrain of his home city.
Indeed, much of the film (which is perfectly paced and constructed at 90 minutes) takes place within the confines of the Norfolk Digital Radio station, which is being re-branded as ‘Shape’ by a new multinational conglomerate. As a result of this takeover, late-night Irish DJ Pat Farrell (played by our own Colm Meaney) finds himself surplus to requirements, and after receiving his P45 from the station, he arrives at an office party armed with a shotgun, and proceeds to keep the employees of the station (and some members of the conglomerate) hostage.
Despite initially fleeing the scene, Alan Partridge is forced to re-enter the station, as he is the only person that Farrell is willing to speak to, and as a media frenzy starts to develop around the siege, Partridge finds himself thrust back into the media spotlight, with the former Knowing Me, Knowing You host only too willing to capitalise on a unique opportunity to boost his flagging profile.
Along with the return of the titular character, Felicity Montagu is also back as Partridge’s long-suffering assistant Lynn Benfield, while Simon Greenall’s Michael The Geordie has progressed from being a hotel worker and petrol station attendant in I’m Alan Partridge to the position of security guard at Norfolk Digital.
Side-kick Simon was also established in the recent web-based Mid Morning Matters mockumentary series, and with these much-adored characters back in the saddle, there is plenty for Partridge devotees to love about Alpha Papa. The wit and humour of his TV incarnations have also remained intact, but the filmmakers have worked overtime to ensure that they aren’t simply re-capping old material, and have made a film that is accessible to punters who have limited knowledge of a character that has been in the public domain since 1991.
By now, Coogan is so comfortable in his role as Partridge, that it doesn’t even seem like he is acting. He has shown in his other work (particular under the direction of Michael Winterbottom) that he is a fine actor with plenty of range, but this is the one role that he will always be remembered for. The new additions to the cast all adapt to the environment with a great deal of gusto, none more so than Meaney, who has to hold his own as a jilted, dinosaur Disc Jockey.
The former Star Trek star isn’t the only Irish involvement in making of Alpha Papa, however, as Wexford native Declan Lowney (who is best known for his work on Father Ted) is in the director’s chair, and there is also a supporting turn from Simon Delaney as one of the special forces operatives who are aiming to bring the siege to a satisfactory conclusion.
With jokes and set-pieces coming thick and fast at the audience, it is unsurprising that not everything in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa comes off in the way that you might hope, and though a huge effort has been made to ensure that the style of the film is cinematic, there are still some televisual touches to the overall product.
However, Coogan and co-writer Armando Iannucci (who has past form in transporting a TV series into the medium of cinema with The Thick Of It spin-off In The Loop), as well as the remaining three contributors to the finished script, have far too much affection for the character of Partridge (and indeed for the city of Norwich itself) to let their guard down, and with many quotable lines – “I am siege face” being one of the memorable – as well as some moments of genuine poignancy, Coogan & Co. have managed to deliver the goods on a project that had been in the pipeline for close to a decade.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is released on 9thAugust 2013