Twenty years. Twenty years since Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud violently swaggered onto the big screen out of a novel by Irvine Welsh and changed not simply British cinema but cinema as a whole. The main players involved; Director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald and much of the film’s main cast would go onto to be important players in the world of cinema. But twenty years is a long time for a sequel and when T2: Trainspotting was confirmed back in the miserable year of 2016, there was much trepidation.
From those making the film, the concern was how audiences would receive a deeply personal project to everyone involved. Indeed, in his own introduction to the special screening at Manchester’s wonderful HOME cinema, you could sense a very nervous energy to Boyle.
“We hope it’s not shite.”
Well put Danny.
For us, the audience, who loved that first film so much, we were hoping this wasn’t some soulless cash in. A Stone Roses style reunion, with no heart and all chequebook. Those of us who had the misfortune of sitting through the distinctly lazy and nasty sequels to Zoolander and Bad Santa had everything crossed in hope.
Thankfully we had nothing to worry about. T2: Trainspotting is a fitting sequel to its seminal predecessor. Simply by being an excellent film in its own right.
This is a film about getting older, how time moves on and the world changes with or without you. The first film was all about youthful bravado. Despite its darkness undoubtedly influenced by horror cinema, its commitment to living in the now and being ready to take the world captured the mood of that time. The Tories were on the way out and a youthful new figure with an optimistic air was about to takeover. This film covers the squandering of that youth “I’m 46 and I’m fucked” Renton (Ewan McGregor) says at one point.
It explores how men sabotage friendships and how, in contrast, women are successful without being anchored to the damaged, inadequate men, like those at the centre of the film. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Spud (Ewan Bremner) are both fathers and thoroughly hopeless at it, just as Renton is a hopeless son to his mother, which he has to face up to when reuniting with his father (James Cosmo).
John Hodge’s superb script has all the heart of the first film as well as the razor-sharp humour and willingness to get its hands dirty. One of the early scenes of the film, depicts a suicide attempt which is then punctuated by some superb black humour. It captures to the tone of author Irvine Welsh’s Edinburgh so well.
Boyle’s direction is superb and contains much of that controlled anarchy he is very good at. The film utilizes a combination of cowboy shots, long shots, handheld, webcams and cctv to help create a wonderful tapestry which is then aided by some beautiful cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle who helps to create a psychedelic sense of heightened reality.
Fair play to the actors too, who rather than come off as old men trying to “yoof” themselves, are entirely believable as being those beloved characters who are twenty years older.
McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller’s (Sick Boy/Simon) tempestuous bromance is brilliantly entertaining and Carlyle still crackles with oppressive menace as Begbie. In addition, Anjela Nedyalkova is a welcome addition to the cast as Johnny’s sometime girlfriend Veronika, who despite appearances, has a far more formidable presence and personality than the three friends she becomes involved with.
Bremner is the showstealer though. Trainspotting 2 is undoubtedly Spud’s film. Without doubt the most sympathetic character and Bremner’s performance not only carries the humour of the first film but real pathos. His representation as a man haunted by his addiction and failure as a father an attempting to channel his energies into something positive and productive gives us all a man to root for.
Despite the concerns Trainspotting 2 would become a “tourist in its own past” to borrow a line from the film it avoids the pitfalls of a lazy nostalgia trip. It successfully maintains a dialogue with its predecessor while growing into a superb film in its own right that stands up to repeat viewing. A better sequel than we ever could have hoped for.