The average broadcasting personality might struggle to revive their career after accidentally shooting a man on live television; not Alan Partridge. He has re-established himself as resident D-jock of the North Norfolk Digital Radio station, delivering radio of a quality that is fast-diminishing; playing belter after belter, pausing only to challenge his viewers to address some of the most pertinent of social questions: “have you ever met a genuinely clever bus driver?” or “which is the worst monger: fish, iron, rumour or war?”.
Alpha Papa is a high octane thriller that unfolds at colossal velocity. The Norwich-based station is undergoing a conglomerate take-over and rebranding, to become ‘shape: the way you want it to be’. Unfortunately, it is not the shape Pat, the sleepy-slot DJ, wants it to be. After a rapid series of events (largely perpetrated by Alan himself), Partridge becomes the mediator of a siege at the hands of the mentalist, Pat (Colm Meaney). This therefore accounts for the title of the film: Alpha Papa represents Alan Partridge in the phonetic alphabet, and is a bit like ‘top daddy’.
The transition of Alan Partridge, a man who now seems more real than Steve Coogan himself, from the down-at-heel television series to a silver screen action-thriller was never going to be easy, and I imagine many a Partridge fan had concerns. After all, this follows a number of series where the humour derives from the mundane, slow-paced, social-ineptitude of a failing man; where belly laughs are prompted by over-heated apple turnovers, and a recurring dry-skin problem.
Despite the heavy kissing and guns, the film succeeds in retaining its claustrophobic locality; rather than planting his character in a foreign land, the writers (Rob Gibbons, Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Neil Gibbons and Peter Byanham) allow Alan to remain in Norwich, and face up to an unbalanced Irish man instead (although it does seem that a take on ‘Banged up Abroad’ would offer fertile ground for a sequel). There is a blur between actor and character, and a difficulty to dissociate the two. Alan is such a believable persona that it becomes quite plausible that he is starring as himself in a film. And in seeing it as such, it is easy to forgive its discrepancy from the previous series, and to understand the incongruous glamour of a siege with a soft leather cardigan. This is exactly the kind of film Alan would make.
The film reaffirms Alan’s character: he is a man of ugly traits, and politically incorrect opinions, but his arrogance is self-conscious and he is driven by desperate and nervous self-preservation; and even with his sociopathic blunders, there is still room for empathy. He represents the worst in all of us, but he is not unlikeable. In Alpha Papa, the writers develop his character, he is not unaffected by changing times, and he even demonstrates a growing acceptance of social trends when he instructs his sidekick Simon to “Never criticise Muslims. Only Christians and Jews a little bit.”
There are references to details and events from previous series which Partridge fans will appreciate (athletes foot and a run-in with a car-wash feature among others), and characters from the series remain to offer contextual grounding to Alan’s story (indeed, for a woman who couldn’t present a cat, Lynn (Felicity Montagu) enjoys her own brief moment of glory). This is not to say however that it should not be enjoyed by those less well-versed in Partridge-isms; the opening credits alone will justify the DVD purchase. It also has a cracking soundtrack, so even if the story fails to impress it could perhaps be used as an upbeat dinner party playlist.
The DVD itself has some enjoyable extras, with an ample reel of bloopers and deleted scenes, and having this film at your disposable to watch again allows you to enjoy (and log for later quoting) the many moments that may have slipped past in the excitement of seeing it on a big screen with three litres of fizzy pop swilling around your bladder. In brief: this film is ruddy brilliant.
Alpha Papa is out now