More noise than signal

Trainspotting 2

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Being Scotsmen of a certain age, as you’d expect we’ve, or at least I’ve, got a certain affinity with 1996’s Trainspotting, hitting a sweet spot of being both part of the Cool Britannia scene and a riposte to is, as the heroes of the piece and their choice of recreational activities are certainly not the Best of British. Narratively, there’s not a huge amount to work though in the original, but Danny Boyle did provide some of the most striking visuals of the age and, crucially, some of the most vibrant characters committed to celluloid.

So, twenty years on, I suppose there’s some trepidation about returning to the scene of the crime. This film adapts some left-over parts of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting book along with some loose direction from his ultimately forgettable follow-up, Porno, but is very much its own beast.

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh after absconding to Amsterdam with the gang’s drug deal profits, as his largely successful attempt at going straight – married with a job in the glamorous world of accountancy – hits the skids when his wife asks for divorce and he see the downsizing axe hanging over his position. The bulk of the film, them, will be how his former friends respond to his return.

Artful dodger Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), now acting as a pimp cum blackmailer with Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) while running an inherited slum of a pub in Leith seems to welcome him back, after an initial bit of aggression, but he may be playing a longer game. Good natured, but still addicted Spud (Ewen Bremner) may have received his share of the cash, but is still upset that he would leave his friends so casually and, beside, what would you expect a junkie to do with four grand except shoot in into their veins?

The other keenly affected party is all-round violent psycho nutbag Begbie (Robert Carlyle), unsurprisingly serving a stretch at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for some laundry list of crime, but who goes on the lam after engineering a trip to hospital. He returns home to find a son who has no inclination at all to follow in his father’s thieving, violent footsteps, but something like that’s not going to stop him attempting to drag him down that path regardless.

And so it goes, with another scam Sick Boy attempts to run based on conning the Government into giving him a regeneration loan for his pub to turn it into a brothel acting as a fulcrum for all of these element to smash together in, if we’re honest, predictable enough fashion, but true to its pedigree the narrative is the minimum acceptable framing device to start hanging the characters from, which is a substantially better use of the film’s time. It’s arguably more of an extended denouement to the first film than its own story, but it’s still strong enough to support the weight of these characters, and that’s what we’re here to see.

It’s just a joy to revisit these characters, their perspectives and humour, and their struggles after all this time, and while we’ll have to wait for time to tell if it’s as iconic a character piece as the original – my money’s on “No”, it’s still an insanely enjoyable film that’s full of the vibrancy, humour and downright cleverness that made the the 1996 outing so great.

Perhaps most rewardingly in the characterisation department, while all the promo material is about the charm of Renton, the guile of Sick Boy, or the fury of Begbie, the real hero of this film turns out to be Spud, who grows from being a punchline to a fully fleshed out character over the course of the piece. He’s even part of briefly making Begbie relatable, but don’t worry, that doesn’t last long.

I shan’t labour the point. This is a hugely enjoyable film and if I’m not talking about it in our films of the year podcast in December we’ll have had a helluva year. I have, perhaps, a slight concern that the funniest scenes may not play so well outside of central Scotland, but for what it’s worth the musical sequence in Trainspotting 2 is substantially funnier than anything in La La Land. Go see it if you haven’t.