The A-Z guide to getting excited about Trainspotting 2
2017 will be dominated by movie sequels, from the dubious (the fifth instalments of Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean) to the promising (Logan, Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049) to the simply inevitable (Fifty Shades Darker, The Fate of the Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2).
In a year crowded by blockbuster franchises, though, there’s one sequel that’s not like the others. We’re talking of course about the reunion of our favourite Scottish junkies in Trainspotting 2, aka T2. The long-awaited follow-up reunites the original cast with director Danny Boyle, who has spent the past 20 years building an illustrious IMDB page.
Unlike the many unnecessary sequels to classic movies, T2 actually has a reason to exist. As you already know (unless you’ve never seen the original, in which case: spoiler alert?), Trainspotting ends with our hero Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) doing a runner with the bag of cash, leaving alcoholic psychopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle) in a murderous rage. The sequel picks up the story two decades later, and Begbie is still very pissed off. I don’t know about you, but that set-up sounds a whole lot more exciting than Transformers punching each other again.
T2 arrives in Australian cinemas later this month, with a soundtrack that includes the likes of The Prodigy, Underworld, High Contrast and Young Fathers. As we impatiently count down the days, we’ve put together this A-Z of Trainspotting trivia and conversation starters. Read up on this and you’ll have plenty to talk about at the pub before the movie. (We only ask that you don’t try Begbie’s schooner-tossing trick.)
While it’s now considered one of the best British movies ever made, the Academy Awards essentially overlooked Trainspotting in its 1997 ceremony. Its sole Oscar nomination was for Best Adapted Screenplay, which it didn’t win. (In case you’re curious, The English Patient won Best Picture that year. It’s good and all, but does it have a baby crawling across the ceiling of a hallucinating drug addict? No, it does not.)
As Renton tells us early in Trainspotting, “Begbie didn’t do drugs; he did people.” Robert Carlyle’s performance as the hard-drinking madman Francis Begbie is an unforgettable element of the original movie, and T2 finds him unmellowed by age and a stint in prison. “I took out two teeth and suddenly Begbie came back to life,” Carlyle told the Guardian.
Some trivia for you: Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh recently wrote a standalone Begbie novel called The Blade Artist. Apparently Carlyle has been in talks to reprise the role in a movie adaptation. As he puts it, “Maybe we ain’t seen the end of Begbie just yet.”
Renton’s “choose life” monologue was instantly iconic back in ‘96, immortalised on the bedroom walls of disaffected teenagers across the world. It’s reprised with a 2017 update in the sequel, with our mind-numbing social media habits taking the place of “compact disc players and electrical tin can openers.”
Danny Boyle was a promising young filmmaker when he directed Trainspotting, following his darkly funny debut Shallow Grave. He’s since gone on to win an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, put a new spin on the zombie genre with 28 Days Later, and give us cult favourites like Sunshine and Millions. Ewan McGregor starred in Boyle’s first three films, but the pair fell out when the director cast Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead in The Beach. It took T2 to bring them back together and mend the hurt feelings.
The highs and lows of MDMA feature prominently in the work of Trainspotting scribe Irvine Welsh. In 1996, he released a trio of novellas called Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance, one of which was spun into the pretty crappy 2011 movie Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy.
Ecstasy plays a supporting role in Trainspotting (its clubbing scenes are brief but spot-on), but the T2 trailer shows Begbie diving into what looks like a fridge full with pills. Or, as Renton’s voiceover puts it, “an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen.” And we know this crew does nothing by halves.
Football has a small but important part to play in Trainspotting, as the movie’s kinetic opening introduces us to the main characters during a game of five-a-side soccer. The team they’re playing against in the scene is Calton Athletic, a real-life club of former addicts who taught the cast how to portray junkies.
Here’s some useless knowledge to share with friends: While Trainspotting was set in Edinburgh, most of the movie was shot on a tiny budget in Glasgow.
Back in 1996, there was some debate around whether Trainspotting glorified heroin addiction. While its scenes of drug taking are certainly stylishly shot, it’s hard to imagine anyone being inspired to pick up the habits of Renton and co. The sequel finds the characters still fighting their addictions, with varying success. To help create an authentic movie about aging junkies, Danny Boyle recruited former heroin addict turned filmmaker Garry Fraser as his second unit director on T2.
While Trainspotting is his best-known work, Irvine Welsh is a prolific writer of novels and short stories. Five of his books have been adapted into movies, and if you want to experience Welsh at his grimiest, check out 2013’s Filth, starring James McAvoy as a truly depraved detective.
Scottish screenwriter John Hodge spun the first Trainspotting novel into a movie (as mentioned earlier, his screenplay scored an Oscar nomination in 1997), and he returned to write the sequel’s screenplay. Hodge has collaborated on several of Danny Boyle’s best movies, and he’s a pro at funny, foul-mouthed dialogue.
Kelly MacDonald was a 19-year-old student when she attended an open casting session for Trainspotting. She landed the role of Diane, Renton’s underage love interest, kick-starting a long and varied career. Back then she was so “young and naive”, though, that she invited her mum and brother to the set on the day they shot her sex scene. The character of Diane is back for the sequel.
Lust For Life
Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life soundtracks Trainspotting‘s exhilarating opening moments, as Renton and Spud are pursued through the streets of Edinburgh. The iconic song returns in the sequel, this time remixed by The Prodigy, and it remains to be seen if that’s a good thing.
Fun fact: Irvine Welsh makes a cameo in Trainspotting as Mikey Forrester, the dealer who sells Renton his ill-fated suppositories.
The Name of the Rose
In one of Trainspotting’s clever character touches, we learn that Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is obsessed with Sean Connery, even though he much prefers his old stuff. In the infamous BB gun scene, Sick Boy name-checks Connery’s 1986 medieval mystery movie The Name of the Rose as “merely a blip on an otherwise uninterrupted downward trajectory.”
The Trainspotting soundtrack is a classic snapshot of a British musical moment, stacked with songs that capture the blurring between rock and rave. T2‘s soundtrack, meanwhile, was met by a more muted response. The tracklist’s not bad; it’s just not that daring or boundary pushing. We’ll wait to see how it works in the movie, though.
T2 is based partly on Welsh’s novel Porno, which revisited the Trainspotting characters a decade after the events of the first book. Because the movie sequel is a full 20 years later, some extra tweaking was required. As Begbie says darkly in the trailer, “I’m old.”
Quentin Tarantino is an outspoken fan of Trainspotting. “The ’90s era was so exciting, and one of the shining lights of that time was Trainspotting,” the director said in a recent interview with BBC Radio 2. The ‘90s was also Tarantino’s breakout decade, with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown confirming his genius. In fact, the cult success of Pulp Fiction strongly influenced the UK marketing for Trainspotting.
Mark Renton was a star-making role for Ewan McGregor, following his promising turn in Danny Boyle’s 1994 debut Shallow Grave. In order to get the emaciated junkie look, McGregor said he simply gave up beer and only ate grilled food. “I drank wine and lots of gin instead,” he told Neon magazine. “The weight just falls off.”
The hapless, kind-hearted Spud (played brilliantly by Ewan Bremner) is one of the best things about the original movie, and his friendship with Renton is a key part of the sequel. T2‘s official synopsis reveals Spud is still grappling with heroin addiction all these years later, and Renton is determined to help him.
Trainspotting (the song)
Glasgow’s own Primal Scream created the instrumental title track Trainspotting, which stretches out over ten dense, dubby minutes. It’s the longest track on the original soundtrack, just beating Born Slippy (.NUXX) by the following rave legends…
1996 was an exceptional year for electronic trailblazers Underworld. While Trainspotting made Born Slippy into an anthem for the ages, the group (which at the time included progressive house don Darren Emerson) also released one of its best albums, Second Toughest in the Infants.
The Volcano Nightclub, where Renton first meets Diane after rediscovering his sex drive, was a real Glaswegian institution. Like so many other U.K. clubs, though, it was long ago demolished and turned into apartments.
North London outfit Wolf Alice have built a strong following, but their profile has really accelerated thanks to T2. The band’s track Silk is put to excellent use in the trailer, filling the sizeable shoes of Underworld, who soundtracked the original clip.
When it comes to the letter X, we’ve bent the rules a bit. As Underworld fans will already know, the group’s original version of Born Slippy is not the one you hear in Trainspotting. In fact, it was the (.NUXX) version that the movie made famous, cementing its legacy as one of dance music’s greatest-ever tracks.
With three tracks featured on the soundtrack, Young Fathers are a big part of T2‘s mood-setting. The Scottish group won the coveted Mercury Prize in 2014 and count Massive Attack amongst their fans, so you know they’re doing something right.
It’s fitting to end our list with a hat-tip to Trainspotting’s incredible legacy. As inthemix’s Jim Poe wrote on its 20th anniversary, “No other film of the day so brilliantly captured the post-rave cultural zeitgeist of that mid-‘90s moment.” Amen to that, and welcome back to our favourite gang of fuck-ups.
Jack Tregoning is a freelance writer based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter.