Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle. Directed by Danny Boyle.
It’s been twenty years since we saw Ewan McGregor’s former skag addict Mark “Rentboy” Renton make off with 16 grand, and in the meantime him, and the film’s other three main characters have been busy… well the actors anyway.
McGregor went off to a galaxy far far away, while Jonny Lee Miller took to America for weird relations with Angelina Jolie, and of course his Sherlock show Elementary. Robert Carlyle did his best to appear in every possible franchise humanly possible, and Ewen Bremner quietly went about being the best character actor in the world.
Indeed, Danny Boyle’s seminal (and second) feature was the stuff of Brit-History; based on the book by Irving Welsh about drug abusing low lives in the Scottish capital, Trainspotting became the definitive film of the 90s, easily making its mark on young British people. Anyone under the age of thirty may be a little too young to truly understand what made Trainspotting so great, but those who read the book, saw the film, got the album, grew terrible moustaches and lived in grotty flats, will know just how important Boyle’s anarchic but great comedy-drama-absurdist fever dream was.
Boyle is a stylish director who can do any genre he wants from psychological thrillers such as Shallow Grave or Trance, to out and out horrors like 28 Days Later and Sunshine. He’s told true life stories like 127 Hours and Steve Jobs, and made truly uplifting stories with the hugely successful Millions and Slumdog Millionaire. Add to all this a director’s role at the Olympic opening ceremony, and you’d forgive him for needing to taking his foot off the gas. Not so, as with T2 Boyle and the original crew team up for a film that sits alongside his work as one of Britain’s best.
What made the original story great is what makes this one great: the characters. We finally get to see if Renton made good on his “Choose Life” speech, if Sick Boy or Spud did something with their lives, and we get to see our very own Scottish Psycho Franco Begbie back on our screens. Like the original this one has a love and affection for this quartet of idiots, and while there’s very little of the original players in it (basically cameos from Shirley Henderson, James Cosmo and Kelly MacDonald) this doesn’t diminish that unlike the first film, this time around it’s about consequences.
The surreal aspects of the original are here too; weird on screen graphics, music video-like song interludes, comedy that comes on the back of dark violence, and gross-out moments, all wrapped in a story that is marinated in the past. T2 soars when it looks at T1 and then examines the consequences, like killing a man in a fit of rage, being responsible for people’s addictions, leaving, staying and everything else those four did in the original.
Cleverly, the film is much less stuffed than the original. While the original proved to be a jumping off point for it’s actors – the main four are all Hollywood hitters, and supports like Kevin McKidd and Peter Mullan are also successes – this film really zeroes in on the central four, and one new addition. Anjela Nedyalkova as Veronika is the emotional heart of the film, the one who most needs to escape the dregs of the city, and of course she seems to be the one who most resembles Diane, but what the film does that works so well is to use her as the voice of a new generation. She is the voice of the people born from those youths in 1996, the sins of the parents coming back, she has no history with these former heroin users, she just knows the pathetic middle aged idiots before her.
But of course, the melancholy is part of the charm; there’s no real emotional black out, and the film doesn’t go for anything massively dark. There’s certainly nothing as bonkers as the scene where Renton climbs into a toilet (though there is a reprise of that toilet), there’s no scene as beautifully shot as the Perfect Day overdose, and nothing as harrowing as Sick Boy’s baby dying.
But there are visual moments that mimic, and remember the original. Spud attempting suicide and vomiting into a plastic bag over his face (twice), is as funny as the bedsheet filled with poo, and while there’s perhaps a little too much “those were the days” it’s moments like the reprise of “Choose Life” or Kelly Macdonald’s one stand out scene that makes you think that maybe there was hope in Edinburgh for Rent Boy after all.
The film is one of Boyle’s best, and proves that he is a master of his craft. To see the boys back is also great, the idea that Spud has written the first one as a memoir is beautiful, and the explanation as to why the first was called Trainspotting is inspired. It’s just hard to think of waiting another twenty years for T3 (though a sixty year old Begbie is definitely worth the wait).
The key difference between the two films, and the reason this one works as well as it does, is that the first was joyously grim, and this one is grimly joyous, it’s a switch that makes all the difference.
Choose this sequel, choose waiting twenty years for a worthy follow up, choose inspired music choices, gracious cameos and a cast that deserve awards. Choose Danny Boyle being Britain’s great living director, choose going to see this film and buying the original on DVD, choose Rent Boy and his pals, choose John Hodge’s great screenplay. Choose hoping for another great Irving Welsh adaptation, and hoping they live up to T1, T2 and Filth. Choose T2 Trainspotting.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.