With T2 out this week, now is as good a time as ever to revisit one of Nineties British cinemas era-defining films.
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is a heroin addict living in Edinburgh. We first meet him running along Princes Street being chased by security, as “Lust For Life” by Iggy Pop plays. In voice over he gives his famous “Choose Life” speech. Of course, Trainspotting isn’t the rabble-rousing adrenaline-fuelled rush that these first scenes – and certain critics – might suggest.
Renton’s friends are Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Tommy (Kevin McKidd), as well as the psychopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle). We follow Renton’s attempts to get clean and the problems the return of his sex drive causes. After a tragedy, he ends up trying to go straight in London, before being drawn back into this world by another tragedy. Can Renton really leave his past behind?
(I feel silly trying to sum Trainspotting up in a few sentences like that, but if you haven’t seen the film by now, maybe that will tempt you? I don’t know)
Trainspotting is based on Irvine Welsh’s novel and, like most of his books, has a lot more going on than you would expect. If you have seen Filth but not read the book, I suggest you try Amazon Prime/eBay/to find a library that is still open. People who haven’t seen this film imagine it to be either a grim slice of misery porn, or something that glamourises heroin. It really isn’t either of those things. Or maybe it is both.
Actually, the thing that sticks out most about Trainspotting on a rewatch is how the series of ostensibly “short stories” are arranged into such a compelling film. We can laugh at Sick Boy’s obsession with Sean Connery and be horrified by the death of baby Dawn. There’s gritty social commentary followed by Renton free-swimming into the depths of a toilet. Later on he jumps from a wall straight into Mother Superior’s drug dealing flat. The Lou Reed “Perfect Day” scene follows, and is another mixture of wicked imagination and bleak realism. In less skilled hands this would come across as messy and uneven, but it is to Danny Boyle’s credit how well Trainspotting holds together. His choice of soundtrack is excellent as well: this does feel like a major talent stepping out of the smallish sphere of just making “British films”.
Speaking of which, the young cast have gone on to be incredibly successful since 1996. The Snooty Ushers considered doing a “Where Are They Now” article, but we felt it was redundant. Ewan McGregor is a bonafide Hollywood movie star and has just directed his first film. Jonny Lee Miller is a huge star on American TV as Sherlock Holmes in Elementary after his own film career. Robert Carlyle seems to be great in each and every role he takes on. Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter), Kelly MacDonald (Brave), and Kevin McKidd (Rome, Grey’s Anatomy) are all very successful as well. Even Ewen Bremner, the lesser of the stars, has had a 20 year career. How many films have spawned that many careers? However, this is the type of film that could be a highlight for all of them.
Trainspotting is more than just a great film about heroin addiction. It’s more than just a great crime film. It’s more than just a great film about lost young men. It’s all of that and so much more. It really is a great piece of British film making.
It is a great British film.
And I have said it before, and I will say it again – the death of Dawn is absolutely horrifying.
Until next time, stay gold Ponyboy stay gold. See you soonish.