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Film review: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Dec 5, 2013 Film & TV

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Directed by Declan Lowney

British broadcasting caricature Alan Partridge – all freckly face and nasally pompous voice – comes to the big screen in a tale that begins as a fumbling attempt to keep his job at a regional radio station, and unravels into a full-blown action flick.

As the opening studio credits go by, one catches the eye: North Norfolk Digital. At first it seems insignificant, but then the brain clicks in and goes “hang on a minute…” It’s the name of the fictional radio station Partridge works for. These provincial comic touches make Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa the ridiculous little charmer that it is, in spite of the fat jokes, religion jokes, race jokes, poo jokes and all the other comedy relics that pepper the script.

A creation of Steve Coogan, Armando Ianucci and friends, Partridge – now 55 years old – is a relic himself; beloved by a certain generation, but somewhat dismissed by younger comedy fans whose tastes have moved from absurdist and character stuff onto confessional comedy, musical comedy, and “docu-normal” comedy of The Office and Parks and Recreation.

I’ve had healthy arguments with pals who won’t see this film because they don’t feel that the outdated sexism the Alan Partridge character exhibits deserves another outing. Twenty years ago I’d have agreed, but Alpha Papa is a deft move by Coogan and co. Placing Partridge squarely in a 21st Century media setting allows us to see how far we’ve come in terms of women in the workplace (to wit: his awkward reaction upon realising the head of the police operation is a woman), and how far we haven’t in terms of institutionalised racism.

In fact, if I hadn’t seen this film in a London cinema at the end of a month spent getting acquainted with the specific racisms of the United Kingdom, most of the laughs in it would have passed me by.

Pat, the workmate Alan throws under the bus, is Irish (played with gusto by Colm Meaney); his plot is a major comment on mainlanders’ ongoing prejudice towards “micks” and reminded me of that scene in The Commitments: “The Irish are the blacks of Europe… So say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.”

Alan even takes to explaining the rules of religious comedy at one point: “Never criticise the Muslims, only Christians. Jews, a little bit.” Beneath all the finely balanced absurdity there’s also a lovely theme about the importance of regional radio to its communities, as the station’s new owners threaten its local voice with automated announcements and “unit-shifting” music choices.

I can’t say that this movie is just silly fun. It’s way too layered for that. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and I can promise the best use of John Farnham’s “You’re The Voice” in a film this year.


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