Invented by Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci for the BBC Radio 4 programme On The Hour, fictional media whore Alan Partridge has since enjoyed cross-platform success as a radio and television presenter. Twenty two years later, and with new writers Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons joining forces with old hands Coogan and Iannucci, Alan migrates to the big screen with the funny and often surreal Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.
When disgruntled DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) finds himself fired after North Norfolk Digital is taken over by a multinational conglomerate, he sneaks back into the building during an office party and stages a siege. Being the only person Pat is willing to negotiate with, Alan (Coogan) is forced to act as an intermediary between Pat and the police. But, as he slowly finds himself as the centre of attention, Alan uses the troubling situation as an opportunity for him to reclaim the limelight.
Where most big screen outings of successful television series rely on a unbelievable scenario or an exotic holiday to spice up the well-tread formula (The Inbetweeners Movie, released last year, and Sex And The City being two obvious examples), Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa remains comfortably within its perfectly formed – and assuredly successful – boundaries with a narrative that, while low in scale and risk factor, is both in keeping with its roots and somewhat worthy of its wider berth.
That’s not to say that Alpha Papa ever attempts to be anything that it’s not, more that it’s so comfortable with its everyday framework that it never feels like it has to reach for more. The script is so sharp, and the inner workings so solid, that the contained feeling to the film suits it perfectly, and enables the comedy to stem naturally from the characters and the unlikely, borderline fatal siege situation they’ve found themselves in.
No matter how skilful the writing is though, or how reliable the setup, the charm and overall success of Alpha Papa resides within Coogan’s performance as Alan. For someone who’s been playing the character on and off for nearly two decades (and how many variations of the characters there’s been over the years), Coogan is as brilliant as ever, capturing Alan’s deluded, self-obsessed, unlikely likeable persona to a tee.
The supporting cast are wonderful in their respective roles, and there’s plenty of snappy exchanges between characters (Meaney and Felicity Montagu as Alan’s foolishly tolerant assistant Lynn, in particular). But then, this is without a doubt Alan’s film – and rightly so. And, while not quite the victorious slice of comedy gold many will be hoping for, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is entertaining nonetheless, full of instantly quotable one liners and kept crisp by Declan Lowney’s realistic direction.