Forgotten Comedies: Steve Coogan’s First Film - The Parole Officer

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

These days Steve Coogan is just as well known for his serious film roles as he is for Alan Partridge, but his first starring role in a film was a lighthearted comedy, and one he now admits that he'd rather forget: The Parole Officer.


The Parole Officer tells the story of Simon Garden (Steve Coogan), a well-meaning, kind, but fundamentally nerdy character - with just a touch of Partridge about him. After he witnesses a murder  by a gang of corrupt police officers, he sets out on a mission to recover the CCTV tape that will expose their crime.


To do this he goes about trying to recruit some of the criminals that he'd helped reform through his work as a probation officer. They plan to carry out a bank heist in order to raid the vault where the incriminating VHS tape is kept. Their gang includes: ex con George (Om Puri), the grandfather of the group; Jeff, (Steven Waddington), once a bank robber and now a reformed fish monger; and Ben Miller as the computer wizard Colin.


My favourite member of the group is actually Kirsty (Emma Williams), the feisty teenage tear-away who manages to be both obnoxious and likeable at the same time, and fits in well with the rest of the gang. There's even a love interest for Simon Garden, Emma, played by Lena Headey.  And there are a few star cameos along the way in the shape of Omar Sharif, Jenny Agutter and Simon Pegg.


It was written by Henry Normal (a well-known producer and writer of many of Coogan's shows) and Steve Coogan, and was released in 2001. However, despite Steve Coogan having had a hand in the script he has expressed his dislike of the film in recent years. He told The Guardian:

"Whenever I think of The Parole Officer, I squirm. And when someone says they like it, I think, 'Really, why?' I’m pleased that they like it, but it’s like a children’s film."


I think Steve Coogan is being a bit hard on the movie here. We all know the comedy film is probably the most difficult genre to get right in modern British comedy. Re-watching it now, it doesn't feel particularly dated - apart from the obviously dated premise of the film (breaking into a vault to steal a VHS tape). The gags are great, they're mostly in the style of Alan Partridge for Simon's character, but the rest of the gang also get plenty of material to work with as well.


Actually, my favourite moment is Jeff's sudden moment of clarity when he realises that he just can't listen to two old ladies jabbering on at him anymore.


Maybe, it was the dancing at the end, and Atomic Kitten's cover of 'Eternal Flame' as the movie's official song that has made Steve Coogan 'squirm' a bit in retrospect, but I think it's all part of that late 90s/early 2000s charm.

 

These days, the film has earned a cult following, and was popular enough to be re-released on blu-ray, which is a luxury that few British comedies are afforded! If you're a fan of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's 'Cornetto' trilogy and (needless to say) Alan Partridge, then I'd say this isn't one to be missed.


So, whatever Steve Coogan thinks of The Parole Officer now, here are some of the reviews that made in onto the DVD case: "Unarguably the greatest film ever made" - Alan Partridge. Another review says "A Bag of Sh*te" quoted by Paul Calf, and another quote is from Hot Dog magazine which reads: "Coogan is the new Peter Sellers". All these are of course fake and made up for the box art (both past and present) by Steve Coogan himself.


Written by Rhianna Evans


© 2020 Super Ink Arts.