The fact that I am writing some notes on an Alan Partridge film is thing of happiness in itself. From starting out on radio in On The Hour, then his own chat show on radio (Knowing Me, Knowing You … With Alan Partridge), then moving to television in The Day Today, then his own chat show (a TV version of his radio show), before two series of his own misery-com, I’m Alan Partridge (before Ricky Gervais became famous with The Office), there was always the possibility of a movie. The long gap between the TV shows and the return on the Fosters-sponsored online show (Mid Morning Matters) made the possibility dimmer; the curse of British TV shows being turned into terrible films also hung in the air to block the dream. The first show to beat that curse, to my mind, was The Thick Of It – In The Loop was a great film in its own right, and it had an Alan Partridge connection in Armando Iannucci (he’s a co-writer of this film), so there was hope for Alan. Now that we’ve finally got the film, it was worth the wait and managed to retain the essence of Alan on the big screen.
The story is fairly straightforward: the digital radio station in Norwich where Alan (Steve Coogan) works, North Norfolk Digital, has been taken over by a conglomerate, which is rebranding the station as Shape; in doing so, they fire DJ Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), with Alan ensuring that Farrell is fired instead of Alan in a meeting with the new boss. At the launch party at the station for the rebranding, Farrell returns and holds members of the station hostage; the only person he will communicate with is Alan, who he mistakenly thinks of as his friend. So the scene is set for Alan to be at the centre of a hostage situation that is raising his media profile once more.
The film works because it is still Alan Partridge in all his horrible glory but in a film that deserves to be treated cinematically – it’s a fine balance but it treads it well. The important thing is that it is funny – there would be no point otherwise. In this, Coogan is fantastic: he is fantastic as Partridge, bringing to the screen those hilarious small details (the way he walks towards what he thinks is the disco, the facial expressions he makes when in times of trouble, the exquisite delivery of typical Alan lines) that makes Alan such a horribly funny character. There is no finer example of this than in the opening credit sequence: Alan is driving to work, with the camera focused on him as he mimes along to Roachford’s Cuddly Toy. It’s a masterclass in why Alan is funny, as he mimes with gusto to the song, emoting and swinging along, only stopping during the bridge of the song to shout at the driver in the next lane that they’ve got their fog lamps on. It’s brilliant stuff and sets the tone perfectly.
The film is also filled with great lines, and not just Alan’s brilliantly odd sign-offs from songs (‘You can keep Jesus Christ. That was Neil Diamond… truly the King of the Jews’, ‘That was soft rock cocaine enthusiasts, Fleetwood Mac’), as well as great jokes (not all of them work – the bit with Alan losing his trousers is cheap in comparison with other jokes). It also manages to find space for long-running characters, such as Simon Greenall’s Geordie idiot-loser, Michael, and Felicity Montagu’s long-suffering PA, Lynn; there’s even room for a call back to Alan’s dream sequences. If there is a slight fault to the film, it’s in the lack of scale due to the direction: Declan Lowey is an accomplished director of great comedy on television, notably Father Ted, and he does great work to bring out the comedy here, but he doesn’t have the full vision to make the film quite big enough on the silver screen. Compare this with the other very funny British comedy of the summer, The World’s End, which is similarly set in small British locations but, with Edgar Wright directing, has a huge visual scale that justifies the need for film. It’s only a minor complaint, because the film is consistently laugh-out-loud funny the entire way through – it’s a lean 90 minutes of great comedy mixed with action, which doesn’t fall into the trap of sending the character on holiday to turn it into a film, and is a cinematic demonstration worthy of Coogan’s comedy skills.