Anarchic and visually stylish, T2: Trainspotting has been eagerly anticipated by fans of the original, which was released in 1996. But even if you didn’t see that, director Danny Boyle delivers a gritty experience with the same four degenerates that made the first installment such a favourite. Mind you, it took me a few minutes to work my way through the thick Scottish brogue.
First there was an opportunity … and then there was a betrayal. Twenty years have gone by. Much has changed, but just as much remains the same. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to the only place he can ever call home. He again hooks up with Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle). When we last saw them, the four life-long friends/associates/bitter enemies had travelled to London to sell a bag of fortuitously obtained heroin. While the rest were sleeping, Renton snuck out with the entire proceeds: £16,000 in cash. He walked away and didn’t look back. He left £4000 in a locker for Spud – a kind gift, but a mixed blessing for its recipient, a man with an unshakeable heroin addiction.
Sick Boy, never one to be troubled by feelings of loyalty, feels bitter envy as much as anger. If anyone could have betrayed his friends, it should have been him. He curses his own sentimental weakness and dreams of revenge. Begbie has spent most of his adult life as a walking hand grenade. Renton just pulled the pin. His rage may be self-destructive, but it’s fair to say he will not be the only casualty. Sorrow, loss, vengeance, hatred and self-destruction have a big role to play here.
John Hodge returns as screenwriter, working from Irvine Welsh’s novels Porno and Trainspotting. Made on a £2 million budget in 1996, Trainspotting outgrew its modest indie roots to become a cultural phenomenon. Boyle recalls: “We kind of careered into the first one. We had just made Shallow Grave, which had done quite well, and suddenly everybody wanted us to make another one. We had Irvine’s (Irvine Welsh’s) extraordinary book and it continued to haunt us. John Hodge started working on the script and, straight away, you just knew we were going to make it. He delivered about 20 pages and it was just like ‘yeah, we’ll do that’. So we basically just tumbled into it.”
Producer Andrew Macdonald says: “We were worried at the time that the film wouldn’t work, because it dealt with drugs and youth culture, and seemed so specifically Scottish. “We weren’t sure anybody would understand it. But, loving the book, we were desperate to make it.” “The great thing was to be fully inexperienced,” says screenwriter Hodge. “We were finishing the script in production and so only gradually became aware of the groundswell of interest increasing. I hoped the way we humanised the heroes and stepped away from a traditional victim portrayal would ring true. And, like the book, Trainspotting gave the characters a sense of humour and a sense of insight, which was traditionally denied them. This was controversial. People liked it, and didn’t like it, for the same reasons.”
The set up for this sequel was well conceived … and subsequently executed. The film is fast paced and dynamic. The performances are universally strong.
T2 tended to labour more in the second half and could readily have been cut back a tad. The drug taking and low-life pursuits of the protagonists remain there for all to see. Boyle, not surprisingly, has worked in 20-year-old footage … and, my word, the four stars have aged. Perhaps that is better put this way: boy, they looked young, way back when. The soundtrack – energetic and powerful – is another of T2’s pluses.
So, for a trip down memory lane and/or a carefully choreographed, well-photographed ride among working class crims, this is a shot in the arm, if you pardon the pun. Rated R, T2: Trainspotting scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller
Release Date: 23 February 2017
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television