The history of British sitcoms making the leap to the big screen is a chequered one at best. At its height in the 1970’s, the general approach was to rehash and re-film the early episodes of the TV series to create a cheap and cheerful feature length movie. Occasionally this approach polished up the rough diamond and created something a bit better but mostly the only change was in the picture quality as film replaced studio-bound VT.
Many, however, take the misguided route of sending the characters overseas (Spain in the ‘70s, America in the ‘90s) with ‘hilarious consequences’. The problem with the fish out of water cliché is it’s usually shoe-horned in at the expense of the comedic essence that makes the sitcom work so well on TV.
Thankfully, “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa” avoids both of these traps. It manages both to be comfortingly familiar while still managing to wring yet more squirming embarrassment out of Alan’s self-absorbed, mundane celebrity lifestyle. Like the best comedies, there is a message here but it’s delivered gently and never at the expense of the humour or characters as Alan and his colleagues deal with the takeover of their beloved local radio station by a soulless corporate media conglomerate more intent on brand positioning than community spirit. By throwing one of his colleagues to the wolves, Alan sets in motion a chain of events which will take him to the very limits of…er…Norfolk.
By this point, playing Partridge is almost effortless for Steve Coogan and he inhabits the role completely. The only irony is there is less need for the make-up and wig that Coogan required twenty years ago when he first played the character. Also making welcome returns are the supporting cast from “I’m Alan Partridge” while Colm Meaney brings a convincing desperation and pathos to the role of Pat Farrell, the DJ whose sacking proves to be the final indignity. Of course, despite the very present drama of an armed siege, everything is skewed by Alan’s crassly selfish and narcissistic world view, meaning plenty of laugh out loud moments for both Partridge devotees and novices alike. Director Declan Lowney manages to keep the proceedings suitably cinematic without sacrificing the TV-style intimacy which makes this kind of comedy work so well but the truth is, you’ll lose very little if you choose to watch this at home on DVD rather than at the cinema.
True to its roots while still finding new and interesting things to say and do with its beloved central character, “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa” is a minor triumph, joining the all-too-short list of TV programmes to make the transition to film without losing its soul.