Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie are back on the big screen, Getintothis’ Peter Guy goes in for one final hit.
It’s almost impossible to sum up the impact Trainspotting had on this writer when it was released in 1996.
I was 17 with my parents visiting family friends in Gloucester, when two of us went off to watch what would be the first 18 certificate film we’d sneak into see.
Being under-age and coupled with the film’s subject matter added a sense of mischievous euphoria and what unraveled in the darkness literally blew my teenage mind – the story, the excess, the characters, the dialogue, the tragedy, the soundtrack and everything else in between opened up a world my naive young self had barely been privy to.
It remains the only film that I’ve left the cinema and walked straight to WHSmith and bought the book immediately after. A love affair with Irvine Welsh‘s filthy storytelling thereafter blossomed with The Acid House, Ecstasy and (in our opinion his finest hour) Marabou Stork Nightmares all devoured within weeks.
Coupled with the cultural explosion of the mid-90s and the musical epiphany that I was undergoing, Trainspotting both as a book and as a film has remained a sure-fire favourite ever since – contextually it’s a reminder of some of the best days of my life – it was pivotal in opening so many doors; musically to classic sounds of past, wild days on the indie-disco dance-floor of the then-present and Welsh’s world made me so much more aware of the myriad of complexities and chaos contained within this thing we call life.
Twenty years on, the anticipation of seeing T2 Trainspotting remained undiminished – especially as Welsh and original screenwriter John Hodge were back on board alongside all the original cast.
What’s immediately obvious from the opening credits is that T2 is a reflective piece; more somber than the original and while time has moved on considerably, the film’s protagonists are still trapped but this time round in an even more unforgiving world.
Renton (Ewan McGregor) has returned from Amsterdam, a failed job, marriage behind him, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is running a dead end pub with a side trade in blackmail porn, Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a hopeless junkie and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) remains in jail with no chance of parole.
What unfolds is essentially a mood piece which reflects each of the character’s regrets and woes of where it all went wrong. If that sounds tragic, well, it is, and even more so in this contemporary age were the mid-40-year-old’s feel lost amid technology, gentrification, loneliness and a prevailing feeling of ‘what on earth do we do next?‘ Male disappointment abounds.
Where Trainspotting reveled in the ecstatic euphoria and abyss-plumbing depths encapsulating the very essence of abandonment of youth, living in the moment and regretting later, T2 finds the characters in a state of stasis – they’re still searching for stability and satisfaction but have no real answers of how to attain it. And they know time is not on their side.
While the subject is heavy, director Danny Boyle has a magical way with injecting levity into even the darkest of corners – Spud’s near overdose becomes a scene of slapstick farce, Begbie’s sexual frustration is in turn grim and wickedly funny while a synchronised dance scene in a club is laugh out loud funny showing just how out of touch the characters are with the naffness of modern life.
The reflective tone of the piece – and nods to the original film – is on repeat throughout. Indeed one of the earliest shots in the film sees a cyclist wearing a skeleton mask, the very cover image of the original Trainspotting novel.
Elsewhere Renton rolls over a car bonnet reprising the infamous street chase; Underworld‘s iconic Born Slippy is given an ambient remix airing, Sick Boy and Renton chew existential yet inconsequential fat on a couch while watching shite on TV, a Choose Life monologue is rattled out but this time with post-millennial anxiety and angst and there’s a poignant, desperately sad moment when Renton returns home to find his mother dead, his dad alone and his bedroom as it was during those years of going cold turkey – as he flicks through his vinyl, for a millisecond there is no sound at all, just as he reaches an album by David Bowie.
While T2 couldn’t possibly succeed in capturing the spark of the original it does miss a trick on other levels – there’s barely any female characters – Sick Boy’s ‘girlfriend’ Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova) is merely a sideshow while cameos by Shirley Henderson and Kelly Macdonald‘s are welcome but fleeting, the soundtrack doesn’t resonate anywhere near like the original – Young Fathers music shines brightest of the new breed, while it’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood‘s Relax which features in the film’s most exhilarating scene and at times certain scenes descend into cartoon pastiche.
Yet following the original was a bold task and for the most part Boyle and co. have done the business. “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth,” spits Sick Boy at one point, but T2 doesn’t wholly rely on its legacy, this is, for the most part, a film worthy of celebrating in its own right.
- T2 Trainspotting is out now, showing at FACT, Liverpool.