For those born after 1980, Trainspotting was a genre-changing, career-making, 1996 film that made us fall in love all over again with 80s punk music and feel empathy for a group of low-life heroin addicts. The sequel, the rather cutely named T2 Trainspotting, unapologetically replicates the original’s style and shows us what becomes of 20-year-old smack heads as they approach middle age.
If you haven’t seen the original Trainspotting, stop reading this and go watch it. Beyond here be spoilers.
Renton (Ewan McGregor) has been overseas after absconding with the loot after the heist pulled by him, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). He returns to Scotland and reunites with Spud and Sick Boy, now reinvented as Simon.
Simon is still an exploiter and an opportunist: wanting to turn on old pub in the middle of wasteland in Leith into a brothel so he can make his fortune. His career as a pimp and blackmailer is proving to not be lucrative enough. Spud is still the frail, perennial junkie, the poet narrator of the novel who can’t seem to kick his drug habit.
Renton seems to have found success but it is hollow and has brought him back to a home that he tried so hard to escape. And Begbie is still Begbie; angry, violent and very very slightly less ambiguously trying to hide his sexuality.
The mechanics of the story arc are almost incidental to this film. In many ways it mimics the original, minus the drugs, and poses the question – can we be forgiven for our choices? Do our choices shape our lives or is it that our fears and weaknesses ensure we keep making the same choices?
A sequel will never be judged on its own merits unless you haven’t seen the original; I can imagine that T2 would stand up quite well on its own without the weight of its predecessor. It has the same energising style as the original and some of the same quality of characters. Many scenes and moments reference the first film, provoking warm nostalgia and a neat sense of symmetry.
The original film explored some dark themes and was populated by unlikable characters. It was the music, freeze-frame editing and quirky camera angles that allowed the audience to be lifted up out of the dark depths of the story into an exhilarating and sometimes comedic ride.
Our tendency, watching Trainspotting, to forgive the characters their terrible deeds because of their youth is gone though and we are left with four men who are not at all likeable. Well, three, as Spud is the shining light and the only one not blinded by his own failings.
All the female characters are shoved to the sidelines; the wonderful Shirley Henderson (always Moaning Myrtle to me) as Gail is devastatingly rendered almost completely voiceless (due apparently to a throat ulcer) and we barely see Kelly McDonald’s Diane. There is a new character, Romanian Veronika, who has an interesting although relatively peripheral part to play.
I struggled to swallow the huge plothole of Begbie avoiding recapture after escaping prison. There’s a bit of hugging and learning that felt like a betrayal of Trainspotting’s callousness but it does allow us to traverse our way to the ending with a modicum of warmth and satisfaction. Was I the only one wanting a bit more of an edge? As the first notes of Lust for Life plays, though, it’s tempting to forgive.
Bechdel test fail