Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
“Someone is trying to kill Alan. You’ll wish it was you.”
Director: Declan Lowney
Cast: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Tim Key
Synopsis: When famous DJ Alan Partridge’s radio station is taken over by a new media conglomerate, it sets in motion a chain of events which see Alan having to work with the police to defuse a potentially violent siege.
The common wisdom seems to be that, for a movie based on a TV sit-com, it’s necessary for the story to be opened up because the confines which make the programme in question so popular on the small screen are somehow an anathema to the chances of big screen success. It’s also a fact that every British sit-com which has been transferred to the cinema screen has proven to be a pale imitation of its source material and, more often than not, a box office failure. That’s why the practice has fallen out of favour, with the preference now being for feature-length TV special episodes for which the familiar format can be maintained. With a typically cavalier bravado, however, Steve Coogan and his team fly in the face of that flawed wisdom by largely confining the action in their movie spin-off of the popular ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ TV show to the offices and studios of the Norfolk radio station where he is employed while providing the illusion of opening out the action by having the attention of the world’s media focused on that backwater studio when a hostage situation develops. It’s a decision that works well, and the humour here is of a consistently high quality which is developed in such a way that an audience doesn’t need to be familiar with the character of Partridge or the TV show in order to reap its benefit.
The hostage situation arises when North Norfolk Digital, the local radio station at which fallen TV presenter Partridge now toils, is taken over by a multinational conglomerate which immediately changes the station’s name to the ironically amorphous Shape FM (Think Heart). Partridge is unconcerned by the take-over, but his colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) fears that jobs will be lost in the shake-up which is sure to follow the takeover, and pleads with Partridge to speak to the new board. Partridge gate-crashes a board meeting with the intention of arguing on Farrell’s behalf, but when he realises that the choice of who is to be let go is between him and Farrell he quickly changes his argument, condensing it down to three words — ‘JUST SACK PAT.’
Perhaps surprisingly, that’s just what the board does, but during a party hosted by the new owners at the station, Farrell shows up with a shotgun and holds his former colleagues and the new management hostage. Partridge is in the car park at the time, so isn’t among those herded into one of the sound studios by Farrell, but it’s he whom Farrell wants to act as mediator between him and the police, a responsibility which Partridge accepts without really grasping the seriousness of the situation. Once back inside the station, though, it quickly becomes apparent that Farrell isn’t quite thinking rationally, and with Partridge as their only hope for survival, the future looks decidedly dim for the hostages.
Comic characters that endure do so because their personas are recognisable, if exaggerated, reflections of ourselves. There can’t be many of us who haven’t seen numpties driving around with their fog lights blazing on a sunny day and felt like informing them of the fact, but Partridge is the one who’ll do just that, gesticulating energetically as he drives alongside the offending road user. And while we all also tell little white lies which we sometimes embellish in order to lend them a spurious air of authenticity, Partridge elaborates on his first, believable, lie — such as when he accidentally lets slip that a man attempting to deliver pizzas to the hostages is actually a policeman — to such a degree that it slowly becomes painfully obvious what he’s up to. It’s a kind of comedy of embarrassment which traverses a tightrope from which it’s easy to fall if the writing and delivery lacks the requisite subtlety, but Coogan pulls it off with ease. While Partridge is an awful, narcissistic pig of a man, he shares enough of our flaws and foibles for us all to identify with him on some level.
Every bit as funny as the TV show which spawned it, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa should satisfy fans of the show and attract new fans to his unique brand of humour — and those who despise the advent of personality-free ‘radio robots’ pushing buttons in accordance with a playlist dictated to them by a computer.