Due to the upcoming release of trainspotting 2 on both digital and physical formats, It was my last opportunity to record my thoughts on what I found to be a tour-de-force of sequel filmmaking and make it appear relevant.
With the creative powerhouses returning from the first film in the form of extremely reliable director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge, there was a real sense of reassurance around the whole project. There was also a refreshing amount of self-awareness and respect coming from the creative team as they publicly acknowledged the negative reputation that precedes sequels and the role that the original film, trainspotting, played in British cinema and popular culture. However, despite these reassurances about script, there was still a great deal of apprehension regarding the characterisation with many questioning whether the main cast, all reprising their roles from twenty years ago, could recapture the essence of their characters. And, more importantly, could Jonny Lee Miller, who portrays Simon ‘sick boy’ Williamson, find that Edinburgh accent again. Yes, I know, hard to digest isn’t it, but Angelina Jolie didn’t marry a Scotsman. It’s a common oversight but he is a full-blooded Englishman.
Despite all the aforementioned reservations, within a few short scenes and minimal screen time for our characters you’ve freed yourself from the niggling shackles of doubt and apprehension as you know you’re in safe hands. You immediately recognise the characters that carried the first film and you’re immersed in the visceral and striking visual style of Danny Boyle. I’m fairly sure I gave an audible sigh around the twenty-minute mark when I realised we were on steady waters. The pieces fell into place and I’ve never felt a sense of relief from an audience quite like it.
Trainspotting 2 is not plagued by the issues that generally hinder sequels: it doesn’t sacrifice plot in order to be bigger and bolder than its predecessor, it respects the first instalment but doesn’t try to replicate it and it has a great deal of heart invested in it and isn’t just a tool for commercial gain. These hurdles are avoided seamlessly. John Hodge crafted a masterful script that the cast, crew and, eventually, audience members were eulogizing over. With Director Danny Boyle, who worked with Hodge on the original film, describing it as “personal” and “extraordinary”. Hodge borrowed elements of the novel ‘porno’ by Irvine Welsh, who wrote the original novel, trainspotting, from which the first film is adapted from, but unlike the first film, this is not a straight adaptation and Hodge crafts together a personal tale that utilises the twenty-year gap between the films.
The film respects its predecessor like all good sequels should and regularly references it through flashbacks. It does this just enough to trigger your nostalgia and refresh you when necessary without being over reliant on it or hand-holding the audience. Trainspotting 2 has its own identity and deals with new and relevant themes. The overarching theme of the whole film is the power/progression of time and that is what is so masterful about the script, it manages utilise the passage of time that so many had identified as a possible stumbling block and weave the characters together with it. The effect of time links the main cast of characters together, whether it be lost time in the case of Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, who has been away from his roots for too long or misspent time in the case of Daniel ‘spud’ Murphy, played by Ewen Bremner, who is desperately trying to salvage his family life and free himself of his drug addiction. At the end of the day, time trumps all and this makes it extremely relatable for the audience who were with these characters in 1996 and engages them immediately. It respects its audience and has a universally relatable main theme that has you immersed almost instantaneously.
Trainspotting 2 fulfils its promise in every way and once again tells a story from a previously muted voice. That voice comes from everyone’s favourite lower class, flawed anti-heroes from Scotland’s capital. It may not have the edgy, horror-inspired, iconic imagery of the first film that will linger in your head, but it doesn’t need to and that stylistic choice benefits the film. Besides, it compensates for the lack of roof crawling deceased babies with its narrative, plot and, most crucially, heart.