Alan’s only ruddy back: Alpha Papa, come to mama!

AlanAlmost for as long as I can remember, I’ve been hearing rumours of an Alan Partridge film. Back when The Partridge was first majestically (dis)gracing our screens, the rumours were easy to dismiss. In fact they weren’t genuine rumours – they didn’t have enough gravity to be labelled that. Back when Alan met Jed, and other assorted mishaps, the Alan-Partridge-does-a-film idea was just that. Us Partridge lovers simply couldn’t get enough, and so it was that many a time the notion was discussed and bandied around, with no real thought to it ever actually happening.

Then something changed and something beautiful was born. Some time after Alan had left our screens and his charismatic face could more readily be seen on DVD box-sets scattered around now largely defunct high-street stores like HMV, proper rumours began to emerge. Week by week, we heard it: Alan Partridge was doing it. He was going to be in his own ruddy film. For a while, I refused to allow myself the pleasure of believing them. For a while, I pretended it couldn’t be possible. The reason, of course, is all too obvious. Had I started to believe the rumours and they’d fallen through, I’d have been emotionally damaged. So it was that I decided to wait until there was more truth in them…something tangible that I could really hold on to.

Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. Years turned into…well, something like five of them, plus an additional half, if I remember rightly. When it eventually happened, and I finally found the grain of truth that I had been searching for, I’d just been out on the sit-down lawnmower at work and was feeling chuffed. I was 21, all big-balled and invincible and such. It was a situation Alan would have appreciated, I thought, as I stood there in the picture-framing studio listening to the radio presenter speak of an Alan Partridge film somewhere on the horizon. I was supposed to mow the grass in extremely straight lines but it always got really boring so, inevitably, after an hour or so of this mundane crap, I went a bit mental – as Alan might call it – and started carving mad circles and shapes in the grass. The owner was never best impressed, but it hardly matters when you’re 21.

Then more time passed. And more. Like I keep saying, a lot of time passed. The next time I heard about Alan’s film idea, I was online and living in an age where I didn’t despise the speed of the internet. I think I had just been reading a story on BBC News entitled something like Can eating too much cheese actually kill you? It seemed all too bizarre and perfect that the next story I would come across would be about our beloved Alan. The story didn’t promise that the film was coming any time soon – in the interview, Steve Coogan was saying that it would be coming eventually, he just couldn’t promise when – but it was enough for me. I went and ate a pork pie. I spent a considerable time thinking about North Norfolk.

More time passed. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that. And then it happened. I found myself reading another story containing the kind of tangible semi-proof that I had not allowed myself to even dream of before.

A year or so later and I’m reading something else: the first marketing stuff for Alpha Papa, Alan’s audacious new film. Such news is the reason why chairs have arms high enough to offer valuable support while enduring a state of emotional flux. I promptly metaphorically shat my pants, and I didn’t even care about it. Bloody hell, Alan was coming!

Like a long-awaited baby, Alan was to crown.

When the trailer for the film started appearing all over the internet, I didn’t watch it. Whenever I saw anything even remotely to do with Alpha Papa, I ignored it. In me was a growing and monstrous temptation to get as much of The Partridge as physically possible for someone outside of Alan’s mysterious inner-circle, but simultaneously, I had to hold myself back. I had waited too long, too many damn years, to just give in and watch the trailer now. I decided that if I was going to see Alpha Papa on the big-screen, it had to be without any sway from any material, online or off. I went so far with this scarily orthodox attitude that I even barred myself from any viewings of any of Alan’s previous work. It was a case of being extremely hardcore. It felt wrong, and it sickened me deeply to have to be like this, but it didn’t matter. The greater good was more important. I knew that although I felt sick with excitement and anticipation, holding on was the best idea. Something to tell the grand-kids, if only these hypothetical children of the future had half a ruddy clue just how important a cultural icon The Partridge was. Which they wouldn’t, the little shits.

Jesus, I hated those grand-kids for what they may become, if in fact they did actually become it.

Today it finally happened: the perfect opportunity came up for me to revel in Alan’s splendour. On my way to the cinema, my feet hurt like ruddyfuck because I had walked a full 6 miles the previous day. Under any normal circumstances, there would have been no way in north Norfolk that I’d have entertained the idea of walking extra distance from Cambridge train station to get to the required cinema (which was perfectly equidistant between the city and the hospital). Today I was eschewing all the rules though, and giving a big two-feet to blisters, even if they had already done their dirty work and, actually, making any kind of statement against their existence was pretty futile and ridiculous.

I walked into the lounge area, where the automatic machines are, and there were quite a few teenagers and young adults standing around, flagrantly flaunting their youth, looking like they hadn’t got a clue what all life’s woes were all about. Something of power swept over me, and as I glanced around, the Alanlovers showed themselves. Not in any visible, mystical way, of course. I just sort of sensed they were there (in reality, the catalyst for this was probably their contrasting age amid the young-folk, but I like to think there was more to it than that).

I smiled. I walked boldly up to the desk and I said “I’m here to see The Partridge”.

“Just the one?”

“Naturally,” I said.

The assistant smiled at me knowingly, tried to tempt me with ludicrously overpriced popcorn – the ruddybitch – and then saw that this was a pointless affair. She passed the ticket to me and I went and had a nice sit down, while I waited the twenty minutes for Alan’s monumental time to come.

In those minutes I thought about a lot of things. Endless Alan-related questions whirred through my mind, as if my brain were eggs and the thing whirring those eggs was a fork governed by the hand of someone who had really quite a vigorous technique. Will Alan meet Jed again? What’s happened to Michael? Will Alan attack a BBC executive with an enormous piece of stinking cheese? Will Alan go “Aha!”

He had better go “Aha!”!

Sadly for you, I am not going to reveal any of the answers to any of these questions here. To me, that’d be a lot like deliberately doing a dump on Alan’s face (which, incidentally, is alluded to in the film – there, don’t say I didn’t give you anything).

Other things panicked me. Like the posters for Alpha Papa. Nothing good has ever come out of someone wearing a wig I kept thinking. And Alan was ruddy well wearing a wig alright in that poster. It scared me, along with so many other things.

A lot excited me about the idea of an Alan Partridge film, and now, here, moments before its arrival, the thoughts seemed to crystallise. I kept thinking how rare and strange a concoction Alan’s identity was. Here was a fictional creation that transcended fiction. Here was a concept which literally couldn’t fuck up a movie. First there was the fact that whenever Alan is around, daft things can and do happen. Better still, Alanlovers expect and anticipate them proudly. As a result, the idea of Alan as a film star is compelling, even if you hate Alan. I quickly concluded that Alan couldn’t fail to be a success on-screen (I had deliberately not read any reviews whatsoever, so I genuinely didn’t know how the film was being received): if he came across as a moron and the movie was a massive flop, that would be Alan all over. If it came across amazingly, that would also be Alan in a very big nutshell.

Sitting there, with ten minutes to go, it came to me again just how miraculous a spectacle it was that the film had even been made at all. Here we were, in a time far removed from The Partridge, and yet they had still bothered to make the movie. The makers could have ditched the idea completely and gone for something much more reliable to please the enormous teen audience who make up cinema revenue, yet they had stayed true to their guns and were putting Norfolk back on the map. They were doing it for the old fuckers. In so many ways, putting The Partridge anywhere near real people again was a risk. As Alan’s legend had faded to the likes of a still very inadvertently amusing big-cheese-wielding ghost, so had many Alanlovers. With the majority of Alanlovers now in their 40s plus, there was a very good chance that they had moved on from Alandom and towards the bitter seas of being forced into going golfing. Or even bitterer death.

The time came. I marched towards the ticket collectors, someone tore my ticket – the memory is hazy…I was too elated – and I strolled and meandered towards my screen, as if pushed by an invisible and very desperate Alanghost of the likes I recently described.

In the cinema, I sat right at the front, in a place where no bastards could be stationery and infuriating in front of me. I glanced behind me as the trailers played. There were more people than I had expected, and from what I could see, all of them were above 40.

I felt amazing. I was 50-years-young (in an ode to Alandom I have subtracted my age [32] from the average age that most people expire [82], as Alan might do purely for his own amusement) and on my own. They were 40 or in excess of 40. Some were over 60. I felt fantastic. I was a young Alanlover with everything good about to be given to me.

All I was missing was a massive lump of cheese and some BBC executive type to shove it in the face of.

As the trailers turned into that screen which looks like a sort of weird contract saying the name of the film on and a signature, and the music stopped and the curtains edged a bit more away from the screen, heightening the drama, a man got up and walked in front of me on the way to the toilet. His figure cut a tragic silhouette. His shorts came right up over his waist so that his belly bulged out all hairy under his T-shirt, sort of like he had a big shaggy dog stuffed down his pants. He was wearing sandals and brown socks and his face looked like it bore a terrifying struggle between staying in the cinema to make sure he didn’t miss the start of the film and powerfully wetting his pants. In a move which showed where his loyalties lied, he decided that his dignity was more important. This member of Alan’s majority demographic lost his battle – just moments later, the movie began (by lost his battle I mean he missed the start of the film. Not that he soiled his pants by doing two-pints of acid yellow in them).

Alpha Papa, come to mama!

This is not a review which will really tell you much about what happens in the film, sorry. I knew as soon as I saw Alpha Papa that I would not dare to venture down this road. It just wouldn’t be right. What I can say is that as much as Alpha Papa is a film for serious Alanlovers and even Alanobsessives, it is also a film for anyone, even if they haven’t got a ruddy clue in Norfolk Digital who the hell he this man even is. This is because Alan’s filmic creation is one which goes beyond the boundaries of cinema and anything you will have seen before. It really is a struggle to liken it to anything else I have ever seen which wasn’t Alancreated. Quite simply, Alpha Papa works because it dares to allow Alan to exist in his own universe. Creating a film out of Alan’s series was always going to be difficult – mainly due to the fact that making even a 45-minute-show is hard when half of it contains mundane scenes of a man making a balls-up of everything he attempts to do. To make a film out of this was probably one of the hardest things imaginable, I would think. Action scenes work so well because they simply don’t allow the viewer an opportunity to disengage (unless it’s Domino, with Keira Knightley, in which the default case is disengaged). Yet in Alpha Papa, the makers have been brave enough to allow Alan to remain unchanged. And that is brave.

The Alan Partridge film is amazing because it’s Alan Partridge, exactly as you have seen him before. A film which knows its ridiculous and is mature enough not to give a toss about it. Beyond the nods to a slew of films that many people will recognise, the cinematography is slick, the production value has gone up 100%, but at the heart of it is a man who we all recognise as if barely a day has passed since him leaving the screen. And for that, Alanlovers should rejoice.

But then, I’m an Alanlover. I doubt I could see it any other way.

Ps as the credits rolled, I decided I would sit there until the entire credits had completely finished. I just knew that if I did that, I would be rewarded with a classic Alanquote or something equally brilliant. As people began to leave, some teenagers came down from the back row and stood to my right in the corridor. They were waiting like I was, along with a few hardcore Alanlovers who refused to get off their seats until they had got what they deserved. I loved that they were 17 or 18 and knew to do this. It gave me hope in the world. Long live Alandom.

The credits ended. The screen went blank. There was tension. I was sure it was going to happen.

And then…

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A review I probably have no business doing. Skins, Episode 2: Pure

That's right, take something beautiful and destroy it. Blame it on too many Fight Club viewings

That’s right, take something beautiful and destroy it. Blame it on too many Fight Club viewings. Sorry, Hannah…

If admirers of the last series of Skins can stop longingly gazing at their fixed-gear bikes for long enough to check out the new one, they will discover that the revived version is a bit different to what they have seen before. In 2013, Skins has grown-up properly. It wears a suit or dress, but don’t worry, most of the time the dress still lacks the knickers. In other words, it’s evolved. All the rage and inner-turmoil of the previous series’ is there, of course – Skins wouldn’t be Skins without it! – but now there’s no time for basic immaturity and running around in slow-motion, smiling a lot. Ah, the giddy heights of self-awareness and being an adult. Instead, in this powerful new series which sees our cast chucked into London’s (half) theatrical grimness, everyone is constantly so mature that even the most basic action is under-pinned by a highly contemplated move. A symbol which suggests that, no matter how stupid their cursed actions are, the character understands this and is doing it anyway, because this is London. Fuck off, I’m in London, I can act exactly how I want now. You get it, that kind of thing.

In the first episode of the series, everyone’s favourite fuck-up Elizabeth “Effy” Stonem proved this on multiple occasions. Not only is Effy now more together than anyone else on-screen (stop laughing), but she’s capable of incredible feats of workplace magic which will have anyone who has ever appeared on The Apprentice very, very angry indeed. (Seriously, this is Skins, take it seriously. It’s time to stop laughing now.)

In Pure, we move away from Effy’s latest terrible life decisions, leave some of the depressing stuff behind, and head over to meet Cassie in episode 2.

Pure opens well. A bit too well, actually. In fact, the opening scene is so well-shot and photogenic that it sickens you to take it in. I almost had to look away (not that it mattered. A washing-line can only hold my attention so far). At the same time, this is one of its enormous attributes (but don’t worry, the sickening factor is kept somewhere between the self-centred toxic blurgh of Hollyoaks and the brutal cringeworthy shame of hideous C4 creation PhoneShop). The cast, writers and director of Skins know full-well that they can more or less vomit on-screen, make a complete pig’s ear of the story (as Nan used to say), dismantle your self-respect for human beings one-by-one and still force you to enjoy it.

Shit.

You could say Skins has got you.

Leading on from the irritatingly sumptuous first few seconds, we meet familiar Skins star Cassie, crouching down beside her like the ghost of quite a creepy uncle who has just bought a video camera and has very steady hands and knees. One of the most innocent-looking females to grace a screen in the last few years, as well as the kind of girl that the aforementioned Effy would either love (let’s hug!) or hate (push down a handily located Canary Wharf mineshaft, for example), Cassie is so pure, so bloody perfect, so immune to looking bad in the morning, that as light fills her room and the story begins, you find yourself thinking things like I hate myself for watching this, but I’m going to watch it anyway. Even if I am 32 and well out of the range of the intended target audience. (A joke in itself, of course. The producers may have made this look like it’s for teenagers only, but they clearly designed it to be just as tempting for people like me. They knew we’d be powerless to resist. Once again: shit).

Now here’s what you wanted to hear: the story behind Skins: Pure is actually surprising good. It resonates with people. It has faults and the characters are likeable and really quite realistic. Note that I did not say plausible, but that hardly matters, does it? You want plausible, you fail to fill in your tax return and receive a nasty fine. People don’t watch Skins for its supreme likeness to real-life, they watch it to escape the clutches of their tax return and jump into a world where you can be really reckless and still look proper cool (which reminds me: I really need to remember to fill in my own tax return!). They watch it, probably, because of all the sharp angles and contrast. Say what you want, but when it comes to contrast and gritty dialogue, the new series is almost like the visual embodiment of what happens when you have a lovely bath in a room where a strange new housemate has, just minutes before, done a big stinky horrendous poo. Probably best to not visualise that, then.

Back to Cassie. Cassie is mysterious in ways untold (figure of speech. They are soon told, don’t worry). Pretty but she doesn’t even know it (although actually she quite clearly does). Cassie is one of those annoying young girl’s you see who says on TV “I can’t believe I’ve got through to the finals of [insert name of TV modelling competition]!” when it’s really fucking obvious to the entire nation. Cassie is naïve yet not naïve yet…er, still quite naïve. It gets confusing. I’m baffled. Anyway, she’s well-acted by Hannah Murray, so that’s a good thing. Above all else, Cassie clearly has an inner-strength which is quite powerful. Beneath all the looking like she’s never even heard of Jim Davidson, she is a tough cookie. As the 2 episodes continue, Cassie follows the Effy book of doing things which you know you definitely should not do – one of these things is having perfectly-lit sex with a muscular Israeli called Yaniv who is arrogant yet sensitive, bone-headed yet capable of standing still long enough to look insightful (but always seriously arrogant). Basically, it’s a classic Skins style catalogue of errors, and if Cassie was your daughter then you’d be living in a state of perpetual terror.

Without wanting to ruin it all for you, someone starts taking photographs of Cassie and showing them to lots of people. Cassie is upset by this, goes on the hunt to find the taker of the photos – this is where the improbable bit comes in – and ends up regretting it bigtime. Along the way, Cassie visits the always beautiful Wales, visits her dad who you will certainly recognise as a man behaving badly, breaks into the international modelling world as a rising star (!), and stands in front of her bedroom window a lot gazing longingly into the night wearing very little (it has to be said – initially not the best idea if your intention is to maintain your privacy).

But Skins is still good anyway. It still has me. I bet it’ll still have you, even if you hate that fact.