It’s been eleven years since the repugnant, Norfolk based DJ graced our TV’s. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a risqué feature adaptation which is providing a chorus of laughs in cinemas across the country.
There have been a number of British comedies that have acted as cautionary tales against a move to the silver screen but this production took care to ensure it would not lose its roots. Directed by Declan Lowney from Father Ted fame, the creative process was tumultuous taking nearly 10 years in the process. This was the struggle to maintain the grotesque dry wit of Alan Partridge that worked so well within a 25 minute show to extend to a full length 90 minute film. Arguably in the words of Partridge himself, the result is “back of the net”.
Taking off years after the series finished, Partridge (Steve Coogan) and colleague, Pat Farrell (Colm Meany) are the senior disc jockeys at North Norfolk Digital which in its rebranding to appeal to a more youthful audience calls for the Willie Nelson loving Pat to be sacked. This is helped by selfish Alan trying to cling to his own job at the cost of anyone. Pat’s loyal nature and complacency makes him forgivable when his sanity tips to crisis point when holds up a siege, keeping his workmates at gun point in the radio station.
A siege comedy would arguably render unsuccessful under normal circumstances however it is a perfect template for the ‘Alan Partridge situation comedy’. Here, Alan is sent between the police and Pat to act as a confidant to ensure he doesn’t hurt anyone. Alan’s priorities are self centred in every way. He adores the news coverage and ‘hero’ worship of being involved in the siege. However, his attempts at saving the day in a Jason Bourne-esque dream sequence aren’t realised when he faces an opportunity to stop Pat. Alan seems to forget the seriousness of the operation as he and Pat continue to broadcast to oblivious listeners. He rounds up the hostages to record a jingle and even continues with radio polls such as “”What is the worst monger? Fish, rumour, iron or war?” The action moments are always quickly deferred away by the absurd lunacy of both Alan and Pat which truly makes the film.
Like that of other grim patrons of British comedy, characters such as David Brent or Basil Fawlty, their appeal is enhanced by the cringe worthiness and cruelty for which Alan provides much of. Hysterically, the only time Alan shows any pathos is when he fears his reputation has been ruined by the news footage of his genitals on display with his hands up in the air as his pants got caught in a window he tried to climb into.
The original series staples- Lynn (Felicity Montagu) the doting assistant and Michael (Simon Greenall) the Geordie token idiot return for the film. They are two characters essential for the Alan Partridge set up in that they may be the only characters that truly see him as he views himself- godlike. Regardless, Alan frequently knocks Lynn back down with his various put downs.
Whilst not likely to be a worldwide hit as Coogan hoped with US co-producers, the film succeeds in its allegiance to ultimately being a British comedy. Despite bringing new characters, it is what has been brought from the original series that has enabled it to adapt to film so well. Over 90 minutes of jokes were cut from the original footage for not being funny enough. Similarly, the landscape remains as bleak as it always was with Alan and Pat’s final showdown on Cromer Pier against the grey skies. There is nothing glamorous, aesthetically nor technologically which is fundamental to the comedy. Ultimately Alpha Papa was the best it was ever going to be.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013), directed by Declan Lowney, is released in UK cinemas by StudioCanal, Certificate 15.