117 minutes (18)
Two decades after Danny Boyle’s iconic film Trainspotting changed the face of British cinema, the original cast reprise their roles as Edinburgh’s most notorious junkies: ‘Renton’, ‘Spud’, ‘Sick Boy’ and ‘Begbie’ are back, and god how we’ve missed them.
The sight of Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle together again is guaranteed to take fans of a certain age straight back to the heady days of the mid 90s – but T2 Trainspotting is far from being a sentimental nostalgia fest. With this refreshing sequel, Boyle has created a follow-up that’s equally harrowing and hilarious, and shows, dare we say it, a real lust for life.
We’re in Edinburgh, twenty years after the events of the first movie. McGregor’s pallid junkie Renton is now a health-obsessed 40-something, who returns to urban Edinburgh after living out the wilderness years in Amsterdam. He’s off the heroine, but his return is prompted by a problem with his heart, which causes him to fall heavily from a treadmill in the opening sequence of the film.
On his return he encounters Miller’s Sick Boy, who’s now a professional blackmailer and cocaine addict. He’s still desperately bitter about Renton’s betrayal, and what follows is a violent reunion in Sick Boy’s desolate family pub – one of the most memorable set-pieces in the movie. It’s the least of Renton’s worries though, as we soon learn Begbie is planning a daring escape from prison to come after him.
One of the first things that strikes you is just how funny the film is. While the original emphasised drama over elements of black comedy, the sequel really accentuates the humour. Based on Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno (Welsh also reprises his role as dealer Mikey Forrester here), the screenplay represents some of the sharpest stuff Boyle has ever put to screen.
Right at the heart of the more humorous moments, and indeed the film as a whole, is Spud. As the film unfolds, Bremner’s faultless performance as the vulnerable addict flips from comedy to tragedy seamlessly: one minute he’s displaying brilliant comic timing, and the next he’s commanding the screen in the throws of a crippling drug binge. These stark contrasts in tone are mirrored in Boyle’s cinematography too: the beautifully shot scenes taking place high in the hills surrounding Edinburgh wouldn’t look out of place in a Scottish tourism board ad, while the sequences in drug dens and greasy, neon-lit nightclubs certainly would.
Boyle uses Begbie’s story as an effective framing device throughout the movie too. We learn very early on that the maniacal character – brilliantly portrayed again by Carlisle – has just escaped after spending the last two decades behind bars. Like the viewer, he’s revisiting his world for the first time in two decades, and he’s shocked to discover things have moved on: there’s a brilliant sequence where he’s horrified to hear his son is choosing to study for a diploma in ‘Hotel management’ rather than follow him into a life of petty crime. His attempts to make sense his unfamiliar surroundings are some of the most compelling elements of the movie.
Of course, no Trainspotting write-up would be complete without mentioning the music. While the original is rightly regarded as one of the finest movie soundtracks of all time, there are only splashes of the classic score used here, and the majority of the new music comes from Edinburgh’s finest group Young Fathers. Several of the band’s tracks feature over key sequences in the film, and the mix of darkness and beauty in their music is fitting of the movie as a whole.
It’s a brilliantly made sequel, which is sure to satisfy die-hard fans of the 1996 classic and intrigue a new generation of fans along the way. After all, when the movie industry is bloated with bland franchises, the chance to spend more time in the company of one of the most original films of the last twenty years can surely only be a good thing.
“It had better not be shite, Danny,” the original cast repeatedly told Danny Boyle during the making of T2 Trainspotting. On reflection, they really needn’t have worried.