The 27th of January 2017 will bring an end to twenty-one years of hope, speculation and anticipation when Trainspotting 2, the sequel to Danny Boyle’s generation-defining cult classic Trainspotting (1996), hits cinema screens across the UK. The multiple award-winning, critically acclaimed Trainspotting was a genuine masterpiece of British cinema, boasting some of the most iconic scenes in film, dynamic characters, eccentric monologues, provocative sound bites and gritty humour, all of which was set to a sensational soundtrack, which surely begs the question: why jeopardise all this for the sake of a sequel not integral to the story of the original?
What is demonstrably clear from hearing anyone involved in the 1996 film speak on T2 is that they themselves are just as avidly protective of the brand as the film’s cult following. Indeed, the film’s director, Danny Boyle, had produced a screenplay for a sequel some ten years after Trainspotting was released, but elected to shelve it for fear of tainting the original; Boyle is fully aware of the burden which rests upon his shoulders in making T2…
“When you have that kind of relationship with it, that people have, that the audience has with it, they’re going to crucify you if you just turn in a version for the money or whatever like that, they’ll feel betrayed, and rightly so.”
Similarly, Ewan McGregor, who plays antihero Mark Renton and who is all too familiar with poorly received follow-up films from his involvement in the Star Wars prequels, had deep held reservations about the creation of a sequel, having flat-out rejected the idea for many years. And yet, he was converted to the cause for reasons consistent with many involved in the original…
“I was always a bit reluctant to make a sequel to Trainspotting because I didn’t want to damage the reputation of the original film, which is much loved, and I didn’t want to make a poorer sequel to it. And then when I read the script, I went – ‘Well that’s not what we’re going to be doing!’ – so I was in, I was definitely in!”
The script for T2, written by John Hodge, creator of the BAFTA winning (and Oscar-nominated) script of Trainspotting, is by all accounts a blinder. Robert Carlyle, who plays psychopath Francis Begbie, summed up the thoughts of his fellow cast members in an interview with NME magazine…
“Honestly, it’s one of the best scripts I’ve f***ing read. I mean, ever. What John Hodge has done is just so clever.”
Fans of the original classic can rest assured that the Trainspotting brand is undoubtedly in safe hands, with the story of T2 clearly being told for one reason and one reason only: the cast and crew are passionate to tell it. There is certainly no question of hackneyed actors simply returning to the comforts of their earlier work for need of employment; on the contrary, several of the now wildly successful key cast and crew, including Carlyle of ABC series Once Upon a Time, Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) of CBS series Elementary, Ewen Bremner (Spud) of Wonder Woman (2017), and McGregor, who has just made his directing debut in American Pastoral (2016), are using what little time their busy schedules allow them to make this sequel. As Carlyle puts it…
“We’re not throwing loads of money at it, none of us are taking exorbitant fees to do this kind of thing, we’re doing it for the love of it.”
Of course, McGregor and Boyle have their own particular cause to be passionate about telling this story. Despite having begun their careers together making Shallow Grave, the two fell out spectacularly over a casting decision for The Beach, and have not worked together since. The decade-long spat has been the source of much regret for both involved, with McGregor having since been quoted as saying: “I just regret all the films that we didn’t make together, me and Danny.” McGregor will no doubt have tried his utmost to see T2 make up for lost time, and certainly said during principal photography that he felt ‘thrilled’ to be back working with his old friend.
So, what do we know about the film?
One thing we can certainly expect is that Renton and the others will have to settle the matter of his betrayal, which will no doubt be played out most spectacularly with Begbie; though the extent to which this will dominate the plot of T2 is not entirely clear.
Irvine Welsh, author of the novel Trainspotting, did write a sequel to his work, Porno, published in 2002. Although well worth a read, those who have read Porno will be relieved to know that T2 will not be based on Welsh’s follow-up work: it is simply not of the same calibre as the original classic and would likely have been exactly the sort of sequel to forever taint the 1996 film. Boyle has suggested that there are similarities with Porno regarding the theme of, “The passing of time and what it does to friendship.” Yet he explains:
“It’s not really based on Porno, the instinct of bringing them back together comes from there, but otherwise, it’s a very original script… It’s a film in its own right and it kind of lives in the shadow, in an interesting way, of the original film.”
In similar tones, McGregor has said:
“I don’t think we’re setting out to re-create something that we did twenty years ago. We’ll tackle it as a new movie, I think that’s how we’ll do it, with the characters we were somewhat familiar with.”
Robert Carlyle has given more cryptic hints towards the nature of the film…
“Without giving anything away, maybe some of them haven’t really moved on… I tell you, this film is going to be quite emotional for people because the film sort of tells you to think about yourself. You are going to be thinking: ‘F***. What have I done with my life?’”
Irvine Welsh, who was involved in the script writing process and is set to re-appear in the film as lowlife Mikey Forrester, gave perhaps the most concrete hints on the content of T2…
“It’s very much telling a story about Edinburgh as it currently is… The main element of the story is basically Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud getting back together again, and it tells the story of them getting involved in the vice industry in a very innovative way.”
Although Trainspotting had no real narrative as such, it was essentially a film centred around Renton’s destructive relationship with drugs, principally heroin; though Renton famously stated in one of his trademark sound bites: “We would have injected vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.” Renton asks the most fundamental question of all when taking his final hit of heroin in Trainspotting: “This was to be my final hit, but let’s be clear about this: there’s final hits and final hits. What kind was this to be?” With the passing of two decades, it is conceivable that drugs, or at least Renton & Co.’s personal use of them, may not feature heavily in T2 (certainly, they played only a minor role in Porno), and that, as Boyle and McGregor warned, we may find the very essence of the film fundamentally dissimilar to its predecessor.
Trainspotting spoke to disenchanted youth in a truly ground-breaking way which would be difficult for a cast of men in their forties to recreate. The nihilism, the alienation and the fundamental insurgent spirit of Trainspotting were so firmly rooted in the age of Britpop and Trance contemporary to the late-1980s/mid-1990s that surely only the children of the dole queue ridden Thatcher/Major years could have illustrated them authentically; this being echoed most vividly in Renton’s parroting of Margaret Thatcher herself: “There was no such thing as society; end even if there was, I most certainly had nothing to do with it.”
Whether a great script or not, the language of McGregor suggests those hoping T2 will be a Trainspotting-Mark II may well find themselves in for a disappointment; this will unquestionably be a new film for a new century. However, Welsh’s words do give some comfort that T2 will retain its roots in social realism reflecting the darkest bowels of Edinburgh’s gritty underworld. Certainly, from what one official trailer suggests, contrary to Renton’s monologue in the finale of Trainspotting, he does not yet appear to have opted to choose life by T2.
Some things we can be sure of are that the film will have multiple chase scenes, one of which will be a recreation of the iconic chase scene on Edinburgh’s Princes Street set to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”. We know that filming has taken place in Edinburgh’s Cav nightclub, we know from another official trailer that Begbie will retain his moustache and that Sick Boy will retain his peroxide-blonde hair, and Boyle has said implicitly that filming has taken place in Amsterdam, most likely where Renton exiled himself, as is the case in Irvine Welsh’s interpretation of the story. One thing we do not yet know is if Kelly Macdonald (who made her acting debut as Diane in Trainspotting) will make a return for T2, perhaps even in the form of a cameo or otherwise.
Star Wars: Episode VIII is anticipated to dominate the box offices of 2017, yet by all accounts, the love, the talent and the raw passion which has gone into the creation of T2 may well make it a contender for film of the year. What is certain is that fans of Trainspotting are in for a treat next January.