Watched: 30 September
Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting sequel arrived earlier this year over 20 years after Mark Renton and his company of friends first appeared on our cinema screens. Trainspotting was, of course, an era-defining movie for some of us of a certain age and musical persuasion (and for plenty more people besides), and arguably as such it’s a very difficult act to follow. Indeed the wiser viewer will have approached this new film with low – or at least tempered – expectations; after all, there were plenty of warnings in the first film about cultural icons being past their best-before dates. Still, the main actors have all returned, with the necessary exception of Kevin McKidd, and naturally they all appear sporting slightly larger bellies and less hair (though, it must be said, Ewan McGregor is wearing the years pretty well). Also, Boyle is once again working with other collaborators who are familiar with Irvine Welsh’s characters and register: chief among them the screenwriter John Hodge, who has incorporated elements of Welsh’s novel Porno.
The main thrill comes simply from seeing these anti-heroic Edinburgh ne’er-do-wells on screen again. Renton is now a man who projects an air of success and inner happiness but is effectively all at sea, returning home to build bridges after his life in Amsterdam has fallen apart. The permanently irascible Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) still doesn’t have a moral compass and has added extortion to his hobbies of drug dealing and prostitution, while also finding the time to run a rather unwelcoming, down-at-heel boozer. The psychopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle) begins the film in prison. Ever-lovable Spud (Ewan Bremner) is estranged from his wife and child, and sadly in a suicidal frame of mind. Disappointingly, some of the female characters from the first film only appear briefly, but Bulgarian actor Anjela Nedyalkova joins the cast as Veronika, a prostitute working for (and in a relationship with) Sick Boy.
There’s a plot thread that amusingly involves a fraudulently received EU development grant of £100,000, but this really just gets in the way of the kind of sketches and unlinked scenes that made the original film such a treat. T2: Trainspotting is at its best when it accurately apes the spirit and structure of the earlier film, and also when it specifically references the original’s most iconic scenes, cleverly drawing on them, recreating them or remixing them in order to ruminate on the passing of time, memories and the ties that bind people to places, friends and family… even when relationships have soured due to betrayal and violence.
It’s not as good as the original, perhaps unsurprisingly, but it is at least satisfyingly different, despite all of the echoes that have been worked into the screenplay. Anyone who has followed Boyle’s career to date will be unsurprised to learn that T2: Trainspotting is full of strong, memorable visuals and stylistic tics, while there’s good use of music too, even if the film is crying out for its own Perfect Day or Lust For Life moment (or even just a Mile End or ropey-cover-of-Atomic moment). McGregor and Miller slip back into their roles with an apparent ease, Bremner’s oddball again provides numerous comic highlights (yes, despite the suicidal tendencies) and Carlyle steals just about every scene that Begbie appears in. At times it’s as if the preceding 20-odd years never happened, and it’s often fun to spend time with them all again, even though it feels different, like we’ve all moved on. Yet there’s something inherently sad about raking over old ground, about never being able to move on, about being bound to your old friends by some intangible shared shiteness… all points the movie makes succinctly enough. (***)