To say that expectations are high for T2: Trainspotting would be something of an understatement. It’s not just that it’s had a huge build-up over the past few months, it’s the fact that 21 years ago the original film was so fresh and vital that it really seemed to capture the zeitgeist. It truly was as significant a part of British life in the ’90s as Blur vs. Oasis. When I arrived at university later that year it seemed as if every other room had a Trainspotting poster – either that or one influenced by it. The final year film students the following summer had Danny Boyle’s influence over almost all of their showreels. The soundtrack – in an era of many awesome soundtracks – featuring Underworld and Iggy Pop amongst others combined the energy of punk and rave that felt fresh. Even if many of the tracks were decades old at the time.
Taking all that into consideration, there’s the also the brute fact that sequels can often be a let-down, feeling like a waste of everyone’s time and money.
So it’s great to report that the film is a brilliant sequel and a reminder of why my generation went head over heels for it all those years ago. Although it’s based on Irvine Welsh‘s Trainspotting and Porno novels (the latter a literary sequel to the original novel), it’s a new narrative – yet one which works well and a conceivable continuation of the story.
As a film, it’s self-conscious – in the best possible way. It mixes in footage from the original film. The ‘choose life’ monologue is revisited and reworked, only now it’s more poignant rather than nihilistic. The trip to the Scottish countryside is revisited – and they even discuss whether it’s nostalgia.
The performances – with many reprising roles that made them famous to begin with – are spot on. If Robert Carlyle‘s ‘Franco’ Begbie seems a little over the top, he still comes across as one of the most unpleasant characters to be created. Jonny Lee Miller and Euan McGregor’s characters may no longer address the other as ‘Sick Boy’ and ‘Rentboy’ which makes sense, but they still spark off each other.
Yet the real star turn here is Ewen Bremner as Spud. Of all of them, he reprises the character right down to the facial ticks and the body movements. Perhaps the most tragic of all the characters, it’s a performance that is a challenge which he rises to most impressively.
Your humble scribe has been based in Edinburgh for 16 years, and it’s hard not to see the film as a love letter to the city, one of the other star turns in the film. It’s not just Leith (which has trod a thin line between regeneration and gentrification over the past two decades, shown in the film), but the whole city. One of the most exciting groups to emerge from the city in the last 10 years, Young Fathers, are all over the soundtrack. When their song ‘Only God Knows’ plays over the closing credits, it’s a fresh euphoria that nonetheless recalls the way Boyle used Underworld‘s ‘Born Slippy’ in the original film.
A Trainspotting sequel could have been cobbled together at any point over the last two decades. Whatever stars have had to align in order to produce this film, it’s been worth the wait.