On the day that the infamous ‘Banana Flats’ in Leith were accorded ‘A listed’ architectural heritage status I was in the cinema to see the sequel to the movie that contributed to the Brutalist building’s cultural credibility.
Trainspotting left me cold in 1996. Danny Boyle’s casting of Ewan McGregor as Renton sat extremely uncomfortably with his characterisation in Irvine Welsh’s mind-blowing source novel. The stage adaptation that featured both Ewen Bremner and Susan Vidler was much more mind-blowing and credible than the movie.
A public schoolboy from Creiff simply did not fit my vision of an, albeit relatively educated compared to his peers, junkie from West Granton.
The low budget special effects were largely corny.
The baby on the ceiling? Come on.
The filthiest toilet in Scotland? With crystal clear water? Come on.
But the music was outstanding and it clearly nailed a cultural moment (I hesitate to say zeitgeist).
So, my expectations of a sequal, especially of a cult youth movie, twenty years on, were hardly sky high.
They should have been, because in my view this is everything that Trainspotting was not.
“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family…. “ Renton’s cynical rant in the original is a sardonic take on the AIDS campaign that fitted so perfectly with the drug addled HIV capital of Europe moniker that Edinburgh ‘enjoyed’ in the mid 1990’s. The city’s unique needle-sharing skag culture had contributed to a minor epidemic, and choosing life was not a decision, merely a potential outcome.
This underclass had zero control.
Only Renton (who at least had supportive parents) had the wherewithal to escape; not just from the vicious circle, but from the country itself. Set up with £12,000 of his mates’ money, the proceeds of a London drug sale that he had, admittedly, part funded (That gets overlooked and is a slight plot-hole for me.) he escaped to Amsterdam and a new life.
That he chose.
T2 opens on Renton’s return to the Promised Land, an Edinburgh where the airport meeter greeters are Eastern European. A family without his mother (he didn’t make the funeral). A Leith that is part-gentrified, although Sick Boy’s Salamader Street flat symbolically overlooks a massive scrap metal yard, the graveyard of dream cars. A metaphor for life’s finite span.
The movie (very) roughly adapts Welch’s Porno, but with many flashbacks and additional scenes from the Trainspotting novel that could have been in the original (not least the scene in Leith Central Station).
The budget is six times the original and it shows. In a good way. The cinematography bristles from start to finish (Anthony Dod Mantle) and the script bristles with comedy and tragedy in almost equal measure. The scene in the King William Bar (1690) is a classic.
Not all the characters have fared as well as Renton.
SickBoy, although lithe (thanks to the Charlie) owns his Aunty’s boozer (the beautifully named Port Sunshine – Hibees ya bass) it’s a doss house and in need of investment. His Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika is the only new character to join the fray and cleverly plays the tart with, half, a heart.
Spud’s still a, now suicidal, junkie.
Begbie’s still a fucking bampot on the run from the jail.
Spud, Sickboy and Renton join forces to turn the Port Sunshine into a cultural heritage landmark in Leith attracting considerable public investment. (For cultural heritage read brothel, sorry, sauna.)
It turns into a hilarious revenge thriller with Begbie on the rampage.
In a turnkey scene Renton sits with Veronika in the fancy Harvey Nichols Forth [sic] floor restaurant. He reminisces on the Choose Life soliloquy but reframes it, every bit as cynically, for 2017.
“Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares … Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse …”
This is the point of the movie. I don’t think it’s about nostalgia as so many reviews have said. What was great about the foursome’s life in 1996? Fuck all.
No, this is about regret and the search for middle aged redemption. A new opportunity to escape the cycle of shit that the trio (Begbie couldnae give a fuck) have immersed themselves in.
It’s an echo of the 1996 dream that, for Sickboy and Begbie, was stolen from them in that London hotel room. But you know, deep down, it’s not going to work out. Is it?
Danny Boyle and John Hodge have created a monumental movie. Poignant, funny, beautifully nuanced and reflecting (not nostalgically) their acknowledged masterpiece of 1996. The weaving together of three generations of the key chartacters’ respective lives is effortless and the music mirrors that extremely subtly.
Ewen Bremner is the real star with his beautifully sad performance as Spud. Ewan McGregor has grown into Renton’s skin and can finally be forgiven the original miscasting. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie just manages to steer clear of charicature, and delivers moments of high camp scary bastardness.
The whole thing is a fucking blast.
Go see it.
By the way, credit to Harvey Nichols for granting the rights to use, and adapt, their outstanding shoplifting commercial as part of the movie.