T2 Trainspotting: discuss Danny Boyle's sequel with spoilers

Choose a follow-up? What did you think of the soundtrack, the transformations and the exploits of the re-formed cast of characters, 20 years after the original?

  • This article contains spoilers.

Has it really been 20 years? The original Trainspotting presented life in the 1990s as a stark choice between drug addiction and a dreary consumer lifestyle. Two decades on and it’s not just the fucking big televisions that have become even more gigantic. Britain has changed so much that Ewan McGregor’s Mark “Rent Boy” Renton barely recognises Edinburgh after returning home from Amsterdam, where he fled with £16,000 in drug money after the climactic events of the first movie. But while heroin no longer plays a pivotal role in the sequel, Danny Boyle’s return to the austere tower blocks and run-down drinking holes of working class Scotland is in many ways closer to the original Trainspotting novel in spirit, even featuring scenes from Irvine Welsh’s book that did not previously make it to the screen. Moreover, it retains many of the same motifs that made Boyle’s 1996 film such a brutal shot in the arm, from extreme violence to ill-advised relationships and ultimately, icy-hearted betrayal.

A hit with the critics, if not quite on the level of the original movie, T2 Trainspotting is being hailed as that rare creature: the sequel that does not destroy the legacy of its predecessor. Here’s your chance to give your verdict on the movie’s key talking points.

T2 Trainspotting - full trailer for the sequel to the 1996 hit

The manchildren

What do you reckon to T2’s poignant vision of insecure, self-obsessed male middle age? They may all be in their 40s and 50s, but our dubious heroes still haven’t grown up. Renton can’t resist the lure of Sick Boy’s latest dastardly scheme; Begbie spends his spare time trying to pull teenagers in nightclubs; Spud is a pitiful sick puppy – still hooked on smack – and Sick Boy himself requires barrel-loads of cocaine just to get through the day. But at least by the end of T2, there’s a sense that all four not-so-lovable rogues have found some form of redemption. Renton and Sick Boy have somehow rekindled their boyhood friendship, Begbie has found the inner wisdom to admit that his son’s mooted career in hotel management is a superior choice to his own, ultra-violent criminal pastimes, and Spud has become a cipher for Welsh’s own rich brand of Scots lyricism, a charismatic storyteller capable of teasing dazzlingly unexpected poetry from the most meagre and stark of existences.

The soundtrack

T2 can’t be blamed for bringing Underworld’s Born Slippy, Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and Blondie’s Dreaming out of retirement. But did you also warm to new entries such as Young Fathers’ Rain or Shine, High Contrast’s Shotgun Mouthwash or The Rubberbandits’ ferocious Dad’s Best Friend? How about the splendid whirl of shimmering stardust that is Wolf Alice’s Silk?

The flashbacks

In revisiting so many scenes from the original movie – Begbie’s pint glass over the balcony moment, Renton and Spud running for their lives after stealing from the bookshop – T2 pays such tribute to Trainspotting that it would be hard to imagine the sequel making much sense for audiences not versed in the finer details of Boyle’s cult classic. Is a piece of art diminished by its reliance on nostalgia? Or were the film-maker and his team wise to play on our passion for the original when building its follow-up?

The loose adaptation

T2 borrows so little from Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel Porno that it is hardly an adaptation at all. The oh-so-noughties porn industry narrative is almost completely dispensed with, unless Sick Boy’s blackmail tapes count as movies. And instead of Renton rekindling his relationship with a now-adult Diane, he embarks on a different, but equally unwise affair with Sick Boy’s Bulgarian girlfriend and business partner Veronica.

Moreover, there are major shifts in characterisation between the novel and the film. Welsh’s Sick Boy maintained such an odious internal monologue – his attitudes towards women particularly repugnant – that it would be impossible to feel any sympathy for him. But it’s easy to feel sorry for Jonny Lee Miller’s version, despite his consistently devious behaviour, especially as he’s been cuckolded, stolen from (again) and dumped by the time the credits roll. Did Boyle make the right decision in basing the new movie only very loosely on Welsh’s work?

Rent Boy and moral ambiguity

None of T2’s key quartet, with the possible exception of Spud, would get past the pearly gates. But Renton is perhaps the most intriguing of the four. Why do we continue to like him when he is betraying his best friend with Veronica? Is it acceptable to behave like a rogue when all your friends are rogues too? That seems to be the only reasonable excuse for Rent Boy’s behaviour towards Sick Boy.

T2 Trainspotting: watch a clip from Danny Boyle’s sequel – video

Spud’s literary awakening

While the original Trainspotting focused sharply on McGregor’s Renton, T2 seemed to find more time for Ewen Bremner’s hapless, eternally slack-jawed Spud, who seems a hopeless junkie until he finds his voice and begins to capture the grimy pathos of life on the mean streets of Edinburgh with spiky yet mellifluous Scots wordsmithery. Along with the story of Begbie’s encounter with his old, drunk father – taken from the original Trainspotting novel and explaining the title of both film and book – this sudden transformation from sad sack to poet counted as one of the sequel’s most inspiring moments. But did you buy it?

The final betrayal

In the midst of such a bloke-centric narrative, it is perhaps fitting that the most vital narrative arc in Trainspotting turns out to be Veronica’s journey from prostitute to wealthy woman after fleeing the country with Renton and Sick Boy’s hard-earned EU cash – at £100,000 a significant upgrade on the £16,000 in drug money swiped in the first movie. Did you spot it coming? Or were you (like the rest of us) far too obsessed with T2’s quartet of squabbling manchildren to notice the deliciously symmetrical devilry happening before your eyes?


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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