“Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa,” a bigscreen version of a British comedy favorite, broke a lot of showbiz rules on the way to its Aug. 7 bow in the U.K.
For one thing, it’s not easy to translate a TV franchise into a bigscreen hit. For another, no concessions were made to the international marketplace in terms of casting, plot, script or location; the film is firmly set deep in provincial England.
According to co-creator Armando Iannucci, such concessions weren’t necessary, thanks to the eclectic history of the self-obsessed and oblivious title character, played by Steve Coogan. “I’ve never really seen Alan as a TV character,” he says. “He was a radio character and then a TV character. Then he was an online YouTube character, then he was a book character. He’s been a live stage character.”
Coogan first played Partridge 22 years ago on BBC radio’s news satire “On the Hour.” The character next appeared on the BBC TV series “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” an excruciatingly funny chatshow spoof that ran for six episodes. That was followed by 12 episodes of “I’m Alan Partridge,” starting in 1997. “Mid-Morning Matters,” an online series, consisted of 12 10-minute shows.
The movie, produced by Studiocanal and BBC Films in partnership with Coogan’s shingle Baby Cow, sticks to the show’s roots, unlike other Britcom-to-feature transfers like “Mr. Bean” and “Kevin & Perry Go Large,” which moved characters into international settings.
Iannucci (creator of HBO’s “Veep,” whose third season bows this fall), says, “It is not a film with overt global appeal. It is not ‘Alan Goes to America.’ ” Adds Coogan: “The worst thing you can do is try to water things down, and try to make them deliberately accessible. You lose the character’s DNA, and end up satisfying no one. It is better to be creatively pure.” The filmmakers hope this approach will find global appeal.
The bigscreen success of another Britcom transfer, “The Inbetweeners,” helped secure financing for “Alpha Papa.”
Alan Partridge is widely loved and admired in the U.K., and the local PR blitz is extensive. But in the U.S., Coogan is better known for his roles in such films as “Night at the Museum” and “Tropic Thunder.”
“It becomes debilitating if you spend too much time on that one character,” Coogan admits. “I didn’t want to feel I was doing the film out of desperation, but because I wanted to. I (didn’t want to) be accused of being a one-trick pony.”
Now that he’s established in other roles, it helps him come to terms with the gauche Partridge. “Having now made six fi lms with Michael Winterbottom, I felt I had self-respect as a creative person and as an actor,” he explains.
Though Coogan has plenty of options, that doesn’t mean he’s abandoning Alan Partridge. Iannucci, Coogan and three other writers on the film have plenty of fodder for other material for the character, meaning he is likely to be around in some form for a long time.
So the bigscreen version could be just one step in a long process.
“One of the good reasons to make the film,” observes Coogan drily, “was because it’s stopped people asking me if we were going to make the film.”