Sunday, September 29, 2013

We need to talk about Alan

(Warning: contains spoilers.)

Our first Date Night (with a babysitter in situ) on Thursday, and what better way to spend it than at the Ultimate Picture Palace catching Alpha Papa a mere couple of months later than everyone else?

Had I entered the auditorium without any prior knowledge, I may well have been nervous. After all, I'm a huge Alan Partridge buff, and rumours of a full-length Partridge film being in the pipeline had been circulating for years without anything coming of it, so the pressure was really on the film and the creative team behind it to deliver. Thankfully, though, the trailer (while containing the usual spoilers) had helped to set my mind at ease.

Even then, though, there was the seed of nagging doubt planted in my mind by all those who'd seen it and told me that while they almost invariably loved it, they didn't feel it was strictly true to the character. Given that Alan has appeared over so many years in so many different formats (most recently the Mid Morning Matters webisodes, the biography I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan and the two one-off programmes Welcome To The Places Of My Life and Alan Partridge On Open Books With Martin Bryce), it must be very tough to ensure consistency of character, or at least a realistic gradual linear development. And doubly difficult when you have hardcore Partridge enthusiasts scrutinising every word and gesture, convinced they know what Alan would or wouldn't do or say in a particular situation.

Thankfully, I'm pleased to report that, despite making the leap from small screen to big, I felt Alan is as reliably Alan-esque as ever. OK, so the plot casts him as something of an action hero - but even then he's an action hero who acts almost wholly out of self-interest and cowardly self-preservation, who is unwittingly successful in his mission (having repeatedly come close to bungling it), and who at one point is divested of both his trousers and his dignity and at another is forced to conceal himself in the sceptic tank of a minibus toilet. A Jean-Claude Van Damme or Die Hard film this ain't.

What it is, though, is an undisputed triumph. The writers - Steve Coogan, Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham, Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons - have hit exactly the right note in terms of plot, refusing to transplant Alan into an unfamiliar environment and instead sensibly keeping it small-scale and local. One of the Gibbons brothers has described it, rightly, as "a parochial action film", and it was nice to see the Welcome to Norwich roadsign ("A Fine City") and several of the city's landmarks putting in an appearance.

Equally welcome are the appearances of familiar faces from I'm Alan Partridge, the first series of which still ranks as Alan's finest hour, in my opinion. Lynn remains his trusty assistant, even when treated cruelly; Michael is reassuringly weird and unstable; and Phil Cornwell's Dave Clifton seizes the opportunity to recount tales of his drink-and-drugs hell (though it's a bit of a shame that at no point does Alan chip in with comparisons to his own dark period of Toblerone addiction).

But of course Alan is the centre of attention, just the way he likes it, and gets to deliver the majority of the best lines. The dialogue is superb, the gags come thick and fast, there are some nice little touches - such as Alan waking up muttering his safe word "crayfish", and having to shoot Susan Boyle in the face - but perhaps the highlight is the simple pleasure of watching him sing along to Roachford's 'Cuddly Toy' in the car. The gusto with which Coogan performs it, and the brilliance of the facial expressions, had me wishing his commute to the North Norfolk Digital studio was a lot longer.

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