Review – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

One of the greatest comedy creations to come out of East Anglia becomes an accidental hero of typically Partridgidian proportions in this long-awaited big screen outing for Norwich’s premier mid-morning ‘D-Jock’.

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa Poster

More Dog Day Mid-Morning than Dog Day Afternoon, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is effortlessly funny and a genuine triumph. Back of the net!

Like Corn Flakes or bakes beans, Steve Coogan’s most beloved comic persona has remained an enduring constant in a world of change since he first popped up on Radio 4’s On The Hour more than 20 years ago.

Alan (Steve Coogan) and Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) are forced to stay on air in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan (Steve Coogan) and Sidekick Simon (Tim Key) are forced to stay on air (well, not so much ‘forced’ in Alan’s case) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

His egomaniacal ambition may still be intact, but the cold, hard reality for ruddy Alan Partridge is that his fall from grace has been pretty epic since his heyday as a BBC talk show host. And yet, just as Alan seems to be scraping the bottom of the broadcasting barrel as one half of the Mid Morning Matters show on North Norfolk Digital, he’s unwittingly offered a chance of career redemption thanks to disgruntled former colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney).

The pathetic, petty and lonely Alan (Steve Coogan) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

The pathetic, petty and lonely Alan (Steve Coogan) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

North Norfolk Digital’s faceless new owners have renamed the station Shape and sacked Pat, who goes off the deep end and holds the station’s staff hostage. The only person he’ll talk to is Alan, whose initial reticence and terror gives way to shameless opportunism when he’s branded the face of the siege by the national media.

Disgruntled ex-DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Disgruntled ex-DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Wisely deciding against the lazy old chestnut of relocating a TV show abroad in an attempt to generate some fish-out-of-water chortles, Coogan and co instead remove Alan from his comfort zone while still basing the action in his native Norwich.

Having played him on and off for more than two decades, Coogan slips comfortably into the leather jacket of Alan, a petty, pathetic, lonely and selfish excuse for a human being who you can’t help warming to in spite of yourself.

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa

New station boss Jason Cresswell (Nigel Lindsay), Geordie security guard Michael (Simon Greenall) and ruddy Alan (Steve Coogan) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

The opening credits sequence in which Alan fervently mimes along to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy while sat behind the wheel (and not forgetting to point out to another driver that her fog lamps are mistakenly on) is an inspired moment of physical comedy that perfectly encapsulates Partridge. Likewise, a later scene sees him furiously flicking through dozens of TV channels to find any mention of himself in a pitiable attempt to impress station employee Angela (Monica Dolan). Director Declan Lowney’s camera lingers on Alan’s face as the desperation creeps into his eyes when he starts to think his little stunt may have backfired.

Alan's long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan’s long-suffering assistant Lynn (Felicity Montagu) in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Since the character’s earliest¬† radioappearance, the writing by Coogan, Armando Iannucci and numerous others has been as critical to the lasting success of Partridge as Coogan’s inimitable portrayal. There have been a multitude of memorable one-liners and vignettes over the years and Alpha Papa maintains the hit rate. The moment when Alan justifies a panic attack he suffered in a car wash, blaming “a perfect storm of no sleep, no wife and angry brushes whirring towards me” is just one of many quotable lines that will have you chuckling along.

Alan (Steve Coogan) and best friend in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Alan (Steve Coogan) and best friend in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

One of the film’s strengths is the time it spends fleshing out the sizeable supporting cast. Tragic DJ Dave Clifton’s (Phil Cornwell) stereotypically upbeat radio voice can’t disguise his near-suicidal ramblings, while Simon Greenall makes a welcome return as simple-minded Geordie Michael, whose lunchbox instigates the film’s crassest joke. Felicity Montagu delivers a lovely performance as Alan’s long-suffering assistant Lynn and comedian Tim Key also impresses, finding a depth to his role as Alan’s bemused sidekick Simon.

With so many comedies having failed this year to raise a titter, the ease with which Alpha Papa has you laughing out loud is testament to the fantastic writing and deft performances.

More Dog Day Mid-Morning than Dog Day Afternoon, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is effortlessly funny and a genuine triumph. Back of the net!

Great Films You Need To See – 24 Hour Party People (2002)

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, especially when it’s told with as much, well, ecstasy as Michael Winterbottom’s chaotically crazy paean to the high watermark of the Manchester music scene.

One of the best British movies of this century's first decade, 24 Hour Party People has pills, thrills, bellyaches and plenty more besides

One of the best British movies of this century’s first decade, 24 Hour Party People has pills, thrills, bellyaches and plenty more besides

Paraphrasing John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, local TV reporter and music impresario (and the ultimate unreliable narrator) Tony Wilson would rather “print the legend” given the choice between that and the truth and Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce are happy to go along.

Wilson is a singular figure and, played by Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge’s cooler, more successful brother, is as clever as he is funny, arrogant, pseudo-intellectual and eccentric. Although claiming at one point that “this is not a film about me; I’m a minor character in my own story” (in one of the film’s many fourth wall-breaking moments), 24 Hour Party People, like Madchester itself, wouldn’t exist without him.

Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) and wife Lindsay (Shirley Henderson) attend the Sex Pistols' seminal 1976 gig at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in 24 Hour Party People

Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) and wife Lindsay (Shirley Henderson) attend the Sex Pistols’ seminal 1976 gig at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in 24 Hour Party People

Winterbottom and Coogan gleefully pull the rug from under the audience right from the beginning of the movie, which starts in 1976 with Wilson throwing himself off a hill while attached to a hand-glider. After the elation comes the danger and finally the inevitable crash. Before we can work out the scene’s a metaphor for what’s to come, Wilson gets there ahead of us, saying straight to camera “obviously it’s symbolic, it works on both levels”. He goes on to add: “All I’ll say is … Icarus – If you know what I mean, great. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter; but you probably should read more.”

When not presenting quirky items that generally show up on the “And finally…” section of news programmes, Wilson fronted So It Goes, one of the only avenues in which to discover exciting new music before the days of the world wide web. In June 1976 he and 41 other people (including his first wife Lindsay, played by Shirley Henderson) attended the Sex Pistols’ seminal Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall gig (which Winterbottom cleverly films by intermingling archive footage for the close-ups of the Pistols) alongside the future movers and shakers of Manchester music (as well as Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, who doesn’t count).

Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) on stage in 24 Hour Party People

Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) on stage in 24 Hour Party People

Through that gig, Wilson met Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) and the other members of soon-to-become post-punk poster boys Joy Division and created Factory Records. The film follows the crazy highs and the crazier lows of Factory’s turbulent existence, from Joy Division through to New Order (formed by the surviving members of Joy Division after Curtis’ suicide in 1980), the Happy Mondays, the Hacienda nightclub, the birth of rave culture and the inevitable implosion.

The no-nonsense Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine) and unconventional producer Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis) in 24 Hour Party People

The no-nonsense Rob Gretton (Paddy Considine) and unconventional producer Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis) in 24 Hour Party People

Winterbottom purposefully splits 24 Hour Party People into two distinct sections – everything that went on prior to Curtis hanging himself and everything that happened after. Curtis is given the respect he deserves; it’s through his band that Wilson formed Factory in the first place and his suicide is dealt with sensitively and suddenly. Harris’ portrayal of the troubled singer is excellent and particularly captures his intense and contorted on-stage persona (he’s even better than Sam Riley in 2007’s Control, the more autobiographical film about Curtis).

Following Curtis’ death, the film gets increasingly anarchic, reflecting both the times and the head space of Wilson, who doesn’t help himself by making a series of rash financial decisions in the name of art. He doesn’t care, for instance, when told Factory will lose money on every copy of New Order’s elaborately designed gatefold 12″ of Blue Monday as he thinks it won’t sell – only to be proved disastrously wrong when it goes on to become the highest-selling 12″ single in history.

Paul (Paul Popplewell) and Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham) up to no good in 24 Hour Party People

Paul (Paul Popplewell) and Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham) up to no good in 24 Hour Party People

Likewise, in spite of the fact the Hacienda is haemorrhaging cash he invests in new offices, which include a zinc roof that can only be observed from a helicopter and a ¬£30,000 boardroom table that’s as pointless as it is cheap-looking. That was the dichotomy of Wilson; a can-do entrepreneur Thatcher would undoubtedly have been proud of had he not helped to usher in rave culture.

The film is strengthened by a rogue’s gallery of new and established talent, including Paddy Considine as the no-nonsense Joy Division/New Order manager Rob Gretton, John Simm as New Order singer Bernard Sumner, Andy Serkis as unpredictable genius producer Martin Hannett and Danny Cunningham as Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder.

The seminal Hacienda nightclub brought back to life in 24 Hour Party People

The seminal Hacienda nightclub brought back to life in 24 Hour Party People

It also features a whole host of cameos, many of whom are used imaginatively in the movie, not least of which the real Tony Wilson as a TV producer lambasting the other Wilson’s presentation skills. In another inspired moment, Wilson recalls his wife having sex in a public toilet with Buzzcocks frontman Howard Devoto. As he walks out the camera pans to a cleaner who happens to be the real Howard Devoto, who turns to the camera and says: “I definitely don’t remember this happening.”

Despite the nods to Partridge, Coogan gives the role far more nuance than he’s credited for and clearly relishes the opportunity to flex his acting muscles. He’s arguably never been better.

Needless to say, if you’re a fan of Manchester’s music scene from the late 70s to the early 90s you’ll be in seventh heaven when it comes to the soundtrack (there’s no Stone Roses or Oasis here, however; they’re not part of the Factory story).

One of the best British movies of this century’s first decade, 24 Hour Party People has pills, thrills, bellyaches and plenty more besides.