DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: John Hodge • PRO: Andrew Macdonald, Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Bernard Bellew • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Jon Harris • DES: Patrick Rolfe, Mark Tildesley • MUS: Justin Hurwitz • CAST: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle
Twenty years on from the original film, and twenty years on in the lives of the main characters, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh from his life in Amsterdam. Visiting the city he thought he had left behind when he ran out on his friends (and Begbie, of course!) two decades previously with a bag of cash, he wants to make amends in some way for what those intervening years have done to them all. Reconnecting with Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy (Ewen Bremner) also reconnects him with his old companion, heroin – something that hasn’t gone away just because he did. Slightly more contentious is seeing erstwhile best friend Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), considering all that occurred at their last meeting. Renton tries to find a way to heal the wounds, and maybe make some money with Sick Boy’s latest scam, involving his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), while also avoiding the enduring rage of Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who has recently escaped from prison and is rampaging through Edinburgh. Nostalgic for the past, angry at the present, and disillusioned by the future, Renton and his friends must find a way to be alright in 2017…a year they never thought they’d live to, and never prepared to face.
Trainspotting was the ultimate ode to the Brit-Pop, Rule Brittania 90s, with an iconic soundtrack and a ‘choose life’ poster that graced the walls of every young adult of the era – my own included. The thoughts of revisiting these old friends was as terrifying as it was alluring – could they do justice to a formative, seminal film that defined an era? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes! Ewan McGregor worried that he ‘wasn’t Scottish enough’ to return to the role – which is exactly what Renton seems to feel as he strolls through an unfamiliarly gentrified Edinburgh, past craft beer pubs and urban-picnic cafés, into the forgotten areas that exist in every city – the tower blocks and the closed-down industrial estates, teeming with people like Spud and Sick Boy, who also can’t seem to function in this brave new world. As with the original, it’s Spud who exemplifies the tragedy of a time that moves by too quickly, and leaves many stranded on platforms unable to find the wherewithal to buy a ticket and board a train to the promised future. Sick Boy is scamming his way through life, capitalising on those who still yearn to belie their sanitised public images by mixing with the underbelly of the city. Begbie still stands, as he always did, an ode to toxic masculinity – overflowing with hatred for a world that he can’t navigate by pure violence anymore, and lashing out at everyone who stands in his way. One thing that still makes sense to him is the betrayal of Renton twenty years ago, and he clings to the rightness of this grudge with the zeal of the wronged. Against all of this, Renton is still our everyman, standing on the fence with total oblivion on one side, and possible redemption on the other – or perhaps simply showing us the aging face of a man who never thought enough about the future to actually imagine himself in it.
The soundtrack stumbles slightly, though it’s impossible to envisage anything being as pitch-perfect as the first, and it’s difficult to imagine what newcomers might feel about this as a standalone film. I’m not sure that those who come late to the Trainspotting train can get the same from this movie as those of us lucky enough to see it at the right time in the 90s, but these really are minor quibbles for a pretty spot on film. On the Irish end, mention has to be made of the absolutely perfect use of The Rubberbandits’ ‘Dad’s Best Friend’, in a scene that suits the song, the accompanying video, the characters themselves, and the film entirely; their anarchic smarts are exactly what Renton and Sick Boy would be engaging with at this point in their – and our – collective growing-up.
Hilarious and devastating, with quick-fire dialogue and black, black humour, T2 gives us just as much honesty as the original did. Filled with flashbacks, nostalgic mirroring of iconic conversations, an updated ‘choose life’ monologue for the lost generation, and wonderfully funny culture clashes – exemplified by Begbie standing in a nightclub, watching the millennial generation dance ironically to Radio GaGa and Run DMC – this is a sequel utterly deserving of the original. Which is the absolute highest of praises I can give to this welcome revisit to old friends.
18 (See IFCO for details)
T2: Trainspotting is released 27th January 2017