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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory