It became a favorite film quite by accident. In spring 1996, my partner (now husband) and I were visiting the exciting, enticing, exotic city of Vancouver BC, and just to get out of a downpour, we ducked into a nearby cinema. We didn’t even care what was playing. In fact, I had heard something called Trainspotting and didn’t seem like my cup of tea, but there it was playing in a place that was warm and dry.
As it turned out, Trainspotting became an era-defining film. Trainspotting was fun to watch, but you’d have to be crazy or suicidal to want to live it. The film is a close look at a kind of hell, a modern underworld ringed by death and funk, set in drab streets, murky bars and dance clubs of Edinburgh, populated by anarchic louts and druggies, all racing or slipping towards their doom.
The structure of the original film is ingenious. The film is narrated by Mark Renton or “Rents”, played by Ewan MacGregor, a young drug addict whose speeches are mockery and venom directed against Scotland (“The scum of the earth”), England, and his own mates: Fellow junkies Spud, played by Ewan Bremner; Sick Boy, played by Jonny Lee Miller; and alcoholic Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle.
The Trainspotting soundtrack became one of my most listened to CDs at the end of the last century. It’s a perfect example of a contemporary rock soundtrack, a keepsake of the film smash and an eclectic album on its own. It features Iggy Pop’s booming, David Bowie produced anthem Lust For Life (1977); plus New Order’s 1982 dance hit Temptation and Lou Reed’s hauntingly bittersweet tune Perfect Day (1972).
This weekend a sequel opened to strong reviews. Being touted, cleverly, as T2, with the same cast playing the same characters 20 years later, and a new, young cast playing them in 1996.
The soundtrack is back too, with Lust For Life, remixed by The Prodigy. (The British electronic group teased the remix on its Instagram last month.) And the old songs done by more recent bands like Young Fathers, Wolf Alice, DJ High Contrast, with standards by Queen, Blondie, and The Clash.
Also returning are director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge.
“Choose your future. Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work, and choose the same for your kids, only worse. Smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen.”
“Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently. And choose watching history repeat itself. Choose your future”
The screenplay is an adaptation of Porno, Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel, who did the original Trainspotting, with the four anti-heroes now connected, not by heroin, but by various dubious strands of the sex industry. Welsh has 11 Trainspotting novels, so maybe a prequel?
“We’re all somewhat protective of what Trainspotting means to people, and what it means to us. None of us want to make a poor sequel to it. So, had we not been presented with the most extraordinary script, which we were, I think we wouldn’t be making the sequel. But because we were, we are.”
Here is what the cast has been up to while waiting to make the sequel:
Ewan McGregor is now 44-years-old, and has starred in 58 films since Trainspotting. Most famously, he has been part of the Star Wars franchise, as well as singing and dancing in Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Little Voice (1998). He played delightfully gay in I Love You Phillip Morris (2009). I especially likes motorbike documentary, Long Way Around (2004), where, with his friend, Charley Boorman, McGregor rides his motorcycle around the world. He lives in LA.
Jonny Lee Miller, also now 44, was married to Angelina Jolie at the time of Trainspotting’s initial release. Since then, he has made 17 more films, including playing Lord Byron. Starred in a stage adaptation of Frankenstein at the Royal National Theatre in 2011, with the production directed by Danny Boyle. He played opposite Benedict Cumberbatch with the two of them alternating the roles of Dr, Frankenstein and the Creature. He currently plays Sherlock Holmes on the television series, Elementary (2012- ). He lives in Malibu.
Ewan Bremner is 44-years-old too. He has worked continuously since Trainspotting, including in Guy Ritchie’s crime caper Snatch (200), and Black Hawk Down (2001), alongside that other 44-year-old Ewan. He lives in Edinburgh.
Robert Carlyle is 55-years-old. His Begbie is one of film’s most entertaining psychopaths of all time. He played a sweetheart in The Full Monty (1997), one of the most popular British films of all time. He also co-starred with Jonny Lee Miller in the swashbuckling Plunkett & Macleane (1999). He played gay in Priest (1994) and he played Stephen K. Bannon, I mean Adolf Hitler in Hitler: The Rise Of Evil (2003). Carlyle was probably the best-known actor in the cast when Trainspotting was first released. He lives in Glasgow.
T2 is in theatres now. Trainspotting is available in Netflix.