ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA. Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu, Nigel Lindsay, Sean Pertwee, Anna Maxwell Martin. Directed by Declan Lowney. 90 minutes.
For British television watchers, Alan Partridge could be a household name. But, beyond the shores of Britain and beyond his favoured Norfolk, he is not so well-known. And this provides a difficulty for a feature film based on a successful television program. Because it has run for so long, the writers and actors are so familiar with the character that they take many things for granted which an audience new to the show may well find strange. And this seems to be the case with Alan Partridge.
For a long time, Steve Coogan’s creation has appeared in many television series. Partridge has been a lively, not admirable, media personality but, in this film, he is now in his mid fifties, co-hosting a radio program in Norfolk. Which means that the film is also a satire on commercial television.
The radio station has fallen on hard times and is being taken over by an aggressively commercial company. Old DJs must go and the choice comes down to Alan Partridge or his friend, Irishman, Pat Farrell, played with vigour by Colm Meaney.
Partridge’s style is immediately communicated in his attitude towards his fellow-host, always silencing him, and blithely carrying on as if the program were completely his own. He is supportive of his friend, Pat Farrell who does the late night shift, and goes in to the new director and board to plead his cause for staying on. When he notices that the alternative to be sacked is himself, he immediately urges them to sack Pat. Which they do.
And Partridge manages to ignore the forlorn Farrell.
But Farrell is not quite so forlorn, taking the board members as hostages during a party and not wanting to communicate with the police except through Alan. This gives Alan an extraordinary new platform, not only a hero in the public’s eyes, but liaison with the police despite his initial fears and touches of cowardice, but going on air to co-host a program with Pat, siege and all, playing popular music, taking phone-in calls, frustrating the police.
This means that the audience is far more on Pat’s side than Alan’s, especially as he continues through the siege, hiding in a room for a liaison with one of the staff, ingratiating himself with the police who become frustrated with his lack of cooperation, double-dealing with Pat all the time, and drawing on the advice of his personal assistant and then turning on her when she is interviewed on television.
In fact, there are some funny and ironic lines, and Alan Partridge gets itself into precarious situations, especially trying to get in a window and having his trousers caught so he gets more media exposure than he anticipated. Of course, he is found out, and that means Pat pursuing him with a rifle and a crisis on the pier.
It may be that in the series, Alan Partridge became a lovable rogue even when people raised their eyebrows at his behaviour. But, an audience plunged into his story without preparation, sees him as more rogue than lovable, despite the comedy, and so it does not sympathise with him as might have been expected.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 24, 2013.