Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (15)

Alan Partridge remains his awful self in this hilarious, suped-up, utterly English comedy thriller.

After 20 years in which Alan (Steve Coogan) has appeared in every possible medium except for a West End musical and a feature movie, he at last appears on the big screen in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.

This extremely funny movies takes in two genres – the desperate journalist unscrupulously exploiting a sensational story, and the siege thriller.

Alan, now a middle-aged divorcee his career on the skids has been reduced to working at North Norfolk Digital. A very minor local radio station about to be taken over by a bean-counting conglomerate re-staffed by trendier young people and renamed Shape, with the slogan ‘The way you want it to be’.

Meanwhile a colleague, the recently widowed Irishman Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), revolts against his redundancy. Grabbing his shotgun, Pat occupies the station, taking the current staff and the new spineless management hostage, demanding a return to the old-fashioned public service outfit it used to be.

Pat is a decent man driven to the edge, and he asks for his trusted colleague Alan to be his link to the authorities and the general public. Alan is a self-serving hypocrite who, having sold out Pat to the new owners to protect his own job, now sees the possibility of promotion and new fame by acting as Pat’s spokesman.

It’s a cleverly contrived situation, a moral maze with Pat as the minotaur, and Coogan, his team of writers and his director Declan Lowney, a TV veteran making his feature debut, squeeze it to the last bitter drop.

Coogan rests confidently on Partridge’s plastic laurels. He preens himself, coins new platitudes, chats up the world and its wife, every inch the “orthodox coward” that Bob Hope’s screen persona professed himself to be.

Steve Coogan’s media personality Alan Partridge is a creation every bit as sad, outrageous, pathetic and funny as Scott Fitzgerald’s over-the-hill Hollywood screenwriter Pat Hobby. And, one suspects, he is to Coogan what Hobby was to Fitzgerald, a painfully honest view of the worst way he might be, an alter id more than an alter ego.

Meaney commands our sympathy; Coogan gets the guilty laughs. It’s all very English in its recognition of the mean smallness of so much of British life. It’s also very English in the way that, when imagination fails, the movie-makers resort to the police blowing up a lunchbox used by a hostage to defecate in and having Partridge lose his trousers and underpants whilst climbing through a window.

By Ruth Walker

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