Trainspotting review – Danny Boyle's classic holds up terrifically well

This supercharged 1996 story of drugs, violence and growing up has lost none of its edge ahead of the release of sequel T2

Prior to the guys’ Take-That-style reunion in the forthcoming sequel T2, here is a very welcome big-screen rerelease of Danny Boyle’s original Trainspotting, 21 years on. It holds up terrifically well. This movie was the first, maybe the only successful 90s British attempt at answering films like Goodfellas or Pulp Fiction; it has a version of their spirit and power – and matches them for hardcore violence, horror and drugs. But John Hodge’s screenplay, taken from the novel by Irvine Welsh, brings in a grittily British kind of social-realist pessimism. Watching it again, especially during the periodic “family” scenes in pubs after court appearances and funerals, I thought of Ken Loach’s Poor Cow.

Trainspotting is supercharged with sulphurous humour and brutal recklessness: it charges at you like Ewan McGregor’s Renton sprinting from store detectives in the opening sequence. In 1996, his famous “choose life” monologue was dynamic; in 2017 it sounds poignantly light and breathy, almost childlike, like a kid reciting in school. With his mates Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and the psychotic Begbie (an unforgettable performance by Robert Carlyle), Renton grapples with getting off heroin and somehow making sense of his life, incidentally falling hard for the beautiful Diane (Kelly Macdonald).

The only problem with Trainspotting is that it inspired an Uncool Britannia parade of geezer-gangster Britflicks, all of them introducing their adorable semi-crim characters in freeze-frame voiceover. But it planted a seed for the Scottish independence campaign with Renton’s state-of-the-nation aria: “It’s shite being Scottish! We’re ruled by effete arseholes!” Like Archie Gemmill in 1978, scoring for Scotland against Holland in the World Cup, Trainspotting found the back of the net.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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