Trainspotting: The Legendary Shot In The Arm For British Cinema

Trainspotting
Trainspotting!

It’s been over a year since we watched T2 Trainspotting, the excellent sequel to Trainspotting. We’ve not reviewed the latter properly on this here blog, so the 1996 Danny Boyle film is getting the proper attention it deserves! You might say it’s a real shot in the arm for our blog on this day! There are no heroines in this film, but there’s plenty of bellowing, mellowing, and burying (unfortunately).

Kind of like another legendary British film, Withnail and I, there isn’t really much of a plot here. It’s about a bunch of Scottish misfits who have a heroin problem – they stumble across a hunk of cocaine and then try and land a one-off drug deal to bag £4,000 between them. However, their drug abuse and general immaturity ensure they’re screwing up their 20s in spectacular fashion, and with an incredible youthful energy, plus a pounding soundtrack, here we have one of the defining films from the 1990s.

Trainspotting

Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s eponymous novel, Trainspotting’s themes concentrate on youthful hedonism, addiction, and being a bit of a moron. Our anti-hero is Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor in his breakout role), who’s charming, intelligent, but a bit of a dickhead. He’s a young, unemployed heroin addict who likes a bit of homespun philosophising when not smacked out of his brains. But at the start of the film, he is keen on getting over his addiction.

He’s friends with the clean living Tommy (Kevin McKidd), arsehead Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and lovable moron Spud (Ewan Bremner). There’s also Begbie, but more on that bad boy later. This hedonistic lot are, essentially, let loose on life and, boy, are they messing it all up big time.

The first half of the film takes a look at their tawdry lives as they get wasted, cause chaos, and gradually sink further into hedonistic desperation. Yet, you see the inner workings of their personalities and grow to like these smackheads, especially the charismatic Renton. That’s despite all his faults, such as wearing skinny jeans.

There are plenty of moments of dark humour, which is at its most grotesque in the aftermath of a lad’s night out. This is a pivotal moment in the film as Renton is overcoming his addictions, hooks up with a young lady, and Tommy discovers a disaster that triggers off his downfall. Spud has overdone it, too, and had a wee accident.

But that’s really it for the plot. It’s a bunch of misfits doing their thing until they land on a fortuitous drug deal opportunity, try to control the lunatic we’re about to cover, and score a “big” one-off drug deal to land them a few thousand pounds. Is that it? Yes, and it’s goddamn riveting. But one bloke has helped it stand the test of time.

Begbie

All the heroin stuff seems a bit tame these days, but what still stands out is the ferocity of Caryle’s performance. The normally softly spoken Scotsman is on explosive form as the psychotic, moustache sporting maniac Begbie. He’s, for some unexplained reason, mates with the other pretty laid back guys, whom he terrifies with his unstable personality.

Whilst he’s not a heroin addict, he clearly has an alcohol problem, which is coupled with a thunderous temper and all manner of other issues. He’s meant for prison, basically, but despite him being utterly contemptible and vile, he’s a huge fan favourite. Why? He’s hilarious.

He’s not the type of bloke you’d want to hang out with, or know, or be within a few miles of, but from a long distance he’s a highly entertaining walking disaster. Carlyle’s theory is that Begbie is actually gay, confused enormously by this, and this simply adds to his various other issues to create regular explosions of violence.

It largely makes for hilarious viewing, but more often than not gives way to the reality of Begbie’s personality disorder – he’s dangerous. He’s often frightening in Trainspotting, to the extent many journalists in 1996 weren’t sure how much of a performance was involved from Carlyle, figuring he must be, at least partially, like that.

Thankfully, Carlyle is a humble and highly likeable bloke and it’s all down to talent. He reprised the role in the 2017 sequel T2 Trainspotting – it’s no big surprise to find Begbie has been in jail for 20 years and is as troublesome as ever. But is that it for the character? There are hints a new series could be on the way involving him, so we’ll wait and see. Based on T2, we’d love a bit of that.

Legacy

Drugs, eh? With a pulse-pounding soundtrack including Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Blur, Underworld, Lou Reed, some excellent acting (Robert Carlyle is goddamn mesmerising), Trainspotting’s iconic status is very much in place.

It doesn’t feel 22 years old. It’s got a youthful verve to it like few other films. Whilst the drug taking element isn’t as shocking as it once was, its classic status has been diminished not a jot – a film everyone must see before they’re 80. Trainspiffing, more like!

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