Film review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (15)

4.00

Back of the net for Norfolk's finest

Alan Partridge's big-screen debut could easily have been a damp squib. A feature film, even one of only 90 minutes, is a very long time to spend in the company of a whining, middle-aged Norfolk DJ with dry skin, athlete's foot and a taste for Fleetwood Mac.

From Porridge to Rising Damp, there are plenty of cautionary examples of bad movies being made from very good British TV comedies. The reason that Alpha Papa breaks this trend isn't simply because of Steve Coogan's prodigiously funny and well-observed turn as Partridge. It's because director Declan Lowney and the film's small army of screenwriters have come up with a Dog Day Afternoon-like comedy-thriller scenario that would just about have worked anyway, even without Partridge at its heart.

The crucial piece of casting here is that of Colm Meaney as Partridge's "friend" and fellow DJ Pat Farrell. Meaney is a formidable actor who makes a perfect straight man for Partridge. He brings menace and pathos to his role without camping it up, even when he is listening to Willie Nelson or driving down Norfolk country roads in a ridiculous yellow radio van. We understand his grievance and believe in his capacity for violence.

Partridge and Farrell face the same predicament. They're "old media" dinosaurs, totally out of place in the new digital age. Their station, North Norfolk Digital, has been taken over by new management, Gordale Media, who want to re-brand as "Shape" and cull some of the veteran DJs. After the shake-up, there won't be room for both Partridge and Farrell.

Farrell entreats Partridge to intervene on his behalf. This yields the first great comic set-piece of the film, as Partridge sidles uninvited into a management meeting, pleas for Pat's job and then backtracks rapidly when he realises he stands to be sacked instead. "Just sack Pat" becomes his mantra.

Such shamelessly two-faced behaviour is the essence of Alan Partridge. He is well enough intentioned but the moment his own interests are threatened, he becomes vicious, cowardly and defensive. He may daydream about being a Jason Bourne-like action hero but when the chance comes to seize the gun, he is sure to fluff it.

Pat's response to losing his job is to take all his fellow colleagues hostage. This is where Partridge comes in as chief hostage negotiator.

One of the pleasures of Alpha Papa is the way it shifts from action movie to comedy. Even at the most fraught moments in the siege, Partridge and Farrell still have time to make inane conversation and to broadcast to their listeners. "What is the worst monger? Fish, rumour, iron or war?" is the kind of profound question Partridge likes to set his listeners. He has a sidekick of his own, the ever-cheerful Simon (Tim Key), who keeps his good humour even when wrapped up by Pat in silver tape and with a shotgun pointed at his head through a kitchen-roll holder.

Partridge is a disarming creation. In spite of his casual sexism (most apparent when he is confronted with a woman police boss and can't work out whether to shake her hand or kiss her), his dissembling, narcissism and utter selfishness, we always root for him. With the audience so firmly on his side, it doesn't matter when some of the gags here err a little on the Dick Emery side (for example, Partridge losing his trousers or trying to hide from Pat inside a toilet).

Certain moments wouldn't be out of place in old George Formby or Norman Wisdom comedies. For all the sarcasm and self-conscious jokes about everything from 1970s pop music to action movies, Partridge has an innocent, boyish quality. He also has a quiet desperation about him, as if he knows that if he doesn't act quickly, his career and his status as a minor celebrity will slip away for good.

Rather than try to open up Partridge for an international audience and give him some Austin Powers-like glitz, the film-makers take a hyper-local approach. The finale isn't set in Vegas or Hawaii but on Cromer Pier, out of holiday season. There are no attempts to tone down the British references. Partridge is into his 50s (and Coogan himself is in his late 40s). It's more than 20 years since On the Hour (the radio show that launched Partridge) was first broadcast. It remains to be seen how Alpha Papa will be received by younger British cinemagoers let alone by those abroad. However, given that recent British Film Institute research has revealed over-45s now make up the largest part of the British cinemagoing audience, Partridge is the ideal screen character for his era.

In its own idiosyncratic way, the film deals with topical and poignant issues. There are plenty of real-life equivalents to Gordale Media and its ruthless chief executive Jason Tresswell (Nigel Lindsay), who fetishise youth and see brand awareness as all-important. There are plenty of equivalents, too, to the Pat Farrell-type DJs and their loyal listeners, ignored and discarded because they don't fit with the image of the youth-obsessed brand.

Alpha Papa is hardly the most ambitious piece of film-making. There aren't formal flourishes beyond Partridge's daydream sequences. Much of the action is confined to the North Norfolk Digital studio where the hostages are being held. Even so, the film rattles along at the same steady clip as the stolen yellow broadcast van driving down Norfolk's B roads.

The sly screenplay, with the hostage siege at the centre, provides a storyline with a certain amount of in-built tension while also offering the perfect platform for Partridge as the hostage negotiator. He is the face of the siege, "siege face" as he cheerfully calls himself as his popularity shoots up. It remains to be seen whether this marks the start of a new film franchise but there is clearly life yet in Norwich's finest DJ.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape