Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan Partridge: … [A] man who’d gone paintballing, realised he’d left his goggles at reception but carried on anyway …

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is by far the funniest film I’ve seen this year – possibly last year, as well. I really did laugh until I cried. There are so many genuinely hilarious moments that I missed half of them the first time around and had to re-watch the film straight away. Alpha Papa is one of those films that has you quoting it for hours afterwards. And while the writing is excellent, it’s the delivery of all those wonderful one-liners that makes Alpha Papa very, very funny.

I was introduced to Alan Partridge (a fictional radio and television presenter played by Steve Coogan) through the 1997 TV series I’m Alan Partridge. The character was first created in 1991 by Coogan, Armando Iannucci, and Peter Baynham from BBC Radio 4. Alan Partridge started out as a sports reporter on On the Hour – a radio show that transferred to television in 1994 as The Day Today. For twenty-three years Alan Partridge has been a regular presence – in varying formats – on British television (Coogan was 26 when he first began playing the character, and he is now 47). During that time viewers have watched Alan – an awkward, semi-celebrity with some serious insecurities and a large ego – grow and change. Since 1994 Alan has been through the breakup of a marriage, estrangement from his kids, career troubles, and a somewhat lacklustre ‘comeback’. In 2013 Alan is 55 years old and not quite the same Partridge as he was back in 1994. As Coogan notes in this interview with the Guardian, Alan is now much more comfortable in his own skin. His political correctness has matured somewhat (in the film he tells his radio sidekick to “Never criticise Muslims. Only Christians. And Jews a little bit”) and he has settled into the habits of middle age (“I should be at home in bed watching funny videos on YouTube”). For long-time fans of the character it is satisfying to see how Alan has grown.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (released in the U.S. as Alan Partridge) sees Alan hosting Mid Morning Matters (“music and chat for the Norfolk generation”) on his local radio station, North Norfolk Digital. Between songs Alan takes calls from listeners on a variety of inane and absurd topics, such as “Which is the worst monger? Fish, iron, rumour, or war” and “Which vegetable has the greatest torsional strength, i.e. which can withstand the greatest twisting load before rupture?” Alan is accompanied by Sidekick Simon, played by Tim Key – an actor with a great sense of comic timing that perfectly complements Coogan’s. North Norfolk Digital is in the process of being taken over by new media conglomerate Gordale, and when a disgruntled former DJ storms the station and takes hostages, Alan becomes the mediator. Alan Partridge is the face of the siege. Alan Partridge is “Siege-Face”.

The funniest moments in Alpha Papa come from Coogan’s character rather than the story itself. It is Alan’s rambling and (more often than not) uncensored way of viewing and relating to the world that gets me giggling uncontrollably. For example, when he refers to the loss of older listeners as a “grey exodus – a Grexodus”, or responds to a question about his mental health:

Do I look like I suffer from panic attacks? I’ve had one panic attack, in a carwash. It was a perfect storm of no sleep, no wife, and angry brushes whirring towards me.

So much of the brilliance of these moments, however, lies in the way Coogan delivers his lines, and becomes the character. It is clear that Coogan has a deep understanding of Alan – a man who is often selfish and egotistical, and yet still, somehow, likeable. Coogan points out that we sympathise with Alan because we see ourselves in him. He is who we might be without the self-edit function. We recognise common human traits in his flailing attempts to be good, in his guilty conscience when he fails, and in his anxious nose-whistle.

For me, Alpha Papa is an immensely successful film. The story – while perhaps not life-altering – is entertaining; the performances are excellent (Felicity Montagu as Alan’s long-suffering assistant Lyn Benfield and Simon Greenall as Michael the Geordie should be mentioned here); and the laughs are consistent throughout. I highly recommend you find this, watch it, and then watch it again. As Alan Partridge says – “Enjoy me!”

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa was released in 2013, and was directed by Declan Lowney. The screenplay was written by Steve Coogan, Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, and Armando Iannucci. You can see more of Steve Coogan in the series The Trip and in the 2013 film Philomena.

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