Review: Alpha Papa (2013)

Alan Partridge on the big screen is every bit as brilliant as you'd hope. Lovely stuff.

Ask any comedy fan aged mid-twenties to mid-thirties which comedy character they’d most like to see on the big screen, and it’s likely that a fair few would say Alan Partridge. He is an era-defining comedy character, from humble beginnings as a mere sports correspondent on Chris Morris’s The Day Today radio series. That became a TV show, which became Brass Eye, by which time the character had become so popular that he warranted his own chatshow, Knowing Me Knowing You (aka KMKYWAP, pronounced “kumkeewap”). This led to two series of I’m Alan Partridge charting his journey as he bounced back from failure.

That series finished in 2010, and not much else was seen of Alan for the rest of the noughties. He turned up on a few Comic Reliefs, an Anglian Lives special, but nothing major until 2010, when he returned with Mid Morning Matters. This was a web-only series, in conjunction with Fosters lager, and was met with waves of critical approval. A hilarious autobiography (the audiobook is a masterpiece of character comedy) soon followed, a few more TV specials, and here we are. A film.

Steve Coogan‘s performance as Alan Partridge has become increasingly more low-key and realistic as the show has gone on. This can be attributed to two factors: his age is getting closer to the character’s (Coogan is 47, Partridge is 55); and the crap make-up would look terrible on a cinema screen. There’s no doubt that as head writer and performer with twenty-odd years experience as the character, Coogan could at this stage hold a conversation as Partridge as comfortably as he could “playing” himself, and it shows. His conviction and dedication to the character means that for all Alpha Papa‘s set-pieces, it never feels forced or unrealistic.

Rumours of the film have been around since 2005, involving Al-Qaeda, but they were shelved after the 7/7 London bombings. It’s not known how much of the original story remains, but it’d be easy to imagine Pat Farrell – antagonist in this story, whom we’ll get to later – replaced by Al-Qaeda without much effort. The story would lose something if this were the case as there would be a key lack of audience affection towards the “villain” that Pat Farrell engenders, but one can imagine it.

We begin with North Norfolk Digital being taken over by Goredale Media. They’re portrayed as a bunch of heartless suits, headed by Jason Tresswell (Nigel Lindsay). They rebrand NND as Shape Media, and folksy Irish DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) doesn’t like it. When they fire him, he decides to take things into his own hands and in the process appoints Alan Partridge as his official mouthpiece.

This leaves Alan in a bind. He has to fight the urge to show off with the urge to actually save some lives and do a good job. He agrees, with an eye on how the resulting publicity could turn out. In short, it’s the perfect set-up to really explore how Alan’s desires would play out in the most entertaining and explosive way possible, with lives potentially at stake.

It goes without saying that the film is funny. Of course it is. What needs to be stated is that this reviewer actually ended up crying with laughter, whimpering like some giant cackling baby, at it. It’s perfect. It’s already film of the year, and it’s impossible to see how anything else could top it. It’s certainly the funniest film of the last ten years. Maybe more. Some people will disagree, those people are definitely wrong. Miss it at your peril.

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