The step-up from television to film can be a dangerous excursion for beloved characters. In an attempt to fit within the three-act structure of films, there is a temptation for directors to place the characters in unfamiliar and unexpected circumstances to get the ˜film feel’ needed to differentiate it from the television show. It is fortunate then, that Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa doesn’t mess too much with the formula that has made Steve Coogan’s character so successful.
Radio DJ Partridge (Coogan) discovers that the station he works at Norfolk Digital is being bought out by a young and hip new company. Fearing for his job, he sets about a chain of events that lead to his colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) taking the station hostage. Unaware of Alan’s hand in events, Pat invites him to join him as the two men rule the airwaves during the extended siege.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Dog Day Afternoon and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Alpha Papa keeps Partridge in his native Norwich for the majority of the running time. It may appear to lack ambition, but with arguably the greatest British comic creation of all time on hand anything other than a small-scale ˜big’ film wouldn’t work. Instead the film relies on the comic chops of Steve Coogan and director Declan Lowney gives him plenty of room to unleash the ultimate Partridge performance.
Coogan’s performance full of facial ticks, subtle looks and great guffawing moments of physical comedy may be the single best tragically comic turn of the year. Those familiar with the show will recognise the beats of Mr. Partridge and while there isn’t anything new per se, everything delivers perfectly within the confines of such a monstrous creation. Alongside him the wonderful Colm Meaney plays a more traditional hero who falls from grace after being mistreated by those in power. He is fully formed and well-fleshed out and provides a superb sounding board for Alan’s own bitter character.
Contained almost exclusively in the radio station, Alpha Papa provides a sense of real claustrophobia. In one scene early on, as Alan walks the now deserted halls of the radio station, unaware the siege has begun, there is a real sense of threat and danger that is as welcome as it is unexpected. Coogan’s performance here proves once again why he may be the most underrated actor, comic or otherwise, working at the moment.
Equal parts coward, villain, ignorant oaf and surprisingly hero, Partridge once again proves his versatility having now appeared on TV, in film, on the radio and in print.
If there is one complaint to be made, it’s that it feels a bit like an extended episode of the television show. There are also two slightly misplaced ˜dream sequences’ that may have been better suited for the DVD extras, but one of them does lead to one of the film’s best lines and as the film keeps you chuckling for its full duration, these are minor gripes.
In a world full of The Hangover inspired nastiness, Alan Partridge as a character fits nicely, but Alpha Papa never treats him with anything but the contempt and reverence that he deserves. Full of British parochial charm, it must be said that never has such a ghastly anti-hero been so wonderfully realised and so funny to boot. It’s a true success story and arguably the funniest film of the year, accessible to fans and newcomers alike. Back of the net!