The continuation of a television show into a film in some ways seems like a natural one. However, despite the similarities the two mediums share, I would argue getting comedy right on the big screen is a much more difficult affair; the one-off nature of a film means it’s hard to gloss over jokes or scenes that don’t work. So is Alpha Papa a worthy addition to the Partridge canon or as ill-conceived as “monkey tennis”?
Alpha Papa opens with Alan (Steve Coogan) happily working for the radio station North Norfolk Digital on his show “Mid Morning Matters”. However a takeover by a multinational company sees the station renamed “Shape” and having to let go of one of their older DJs, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney).
Pat does not take the firing well, taking a number of the employees of the station hostage. It is up to Alan, the only colleague Pat trusts, to act as a mediator between him and the police. This gives Alan the chance to get the kind of national headlines he had all but given up on. Could the siege be the opportunity he needs to truly bounce back?
Perhaps one of the reasons In the Loop, writer Armando Iannucci’s previous attempt to bring one of his small screen creations to the big screen, worked was because he already had two seasons to work out what about the show and his characters worked best.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is in similarly safe hands here. Coogan, Iannucci and everyone else involved have had twenty years to work out the particular traits of Alan that work best, and they play to these strengths well.
Like in the television series there’s a joy in just spending time with Alan that is exploited well here. So some of the highlights of the film involve him simply hosting his radio show with phone-in questions like “What is the worst monger: fish, iron, rumour or war?” As well as questionable bits of advice to his co-host, Sidekick Simon, such as: “Never criticise Muslims. Only Christians, and Jews a little bit.”
As the film moves towards becomes more “Hollywood” with tense hostage negotiations the film wisely underplays a lot of the drama by reminding us we are ultimately still in Norwich.
This is reminiscent of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy where the very British setting becomes a launching point for many of the film’s best moments. It is unlikely for example we would see scenes involving a “Geordie Anne Frank” or a roadshow bus in any American film.
Finally there is an emotional resonance to this film that is different to his previous incarnations. Whether it is because we have lot of history with the character, or that he has become more relaxed about not being as famous as he had hoped, Alan seems more sympathetic at this stage in his career. The ending to the film feels like a fitting farewell to the character who would have previously stopped at nothing to get what he wants, but now seems willing to settle for some of life’s simpler pleasures.
Alpha Papa then is a fond journey back into Alan’s world that reminds us how enduring great comic characters can be. Or as Alan might put it “Crash! Bang! Wallop! What a film!”