Trainspotting is a 1996 British black comedy drama film directed by Danny Boyle and starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, and Kelly Macdonald in her debut. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the film was released in the United Kingdom on 23 February 1996.
UK cinema release poster
|Directed by||Danny Boyle|
|Produced by||Andrew Macdonald|
|Screenplay by||John Hodge|
by Irvine Welsh
|Edited by||Masahiro Hirakubo|
|Distributed by||PolyGram Filmed Entertainment|
|Box office||$72 million|
The Academy Award-nominated screenplay by John Hodge follows a group of heroin addicts in an economically depressed area of Edinburgh and their passage through life. Beyond drug addiction, other themes in the film are exploration of the urban poverty and squalor in Edinburgh.
The film has been ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of the 20th century. In 2004 the film was voted the best Scottish film of all time in a general public poll. In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 10th best British film ever. A sequel, T2 Trainspotting, was released in January 2017.
The title of the film comes from a particular scene in the book where the main character, Mark Renton, meets an old drunk in a disused train station, who turns out to be his friend's estranged father. The old man asks Renton and Begbie, who is the man's son, if they are "trainspottin'".
The story follows the trials and tribulations of Mark Renton and his extended group of colourful friends as he tries to "choose life" away from heroin abuse.
Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, Renton's closest friends are Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson – a charismatic hustler who knows a lot about Sean Connery – and Daniel "Spud" Murphy, who, though outwardly weak and hapless, is a confidence trickster. Other friends include the reliable and clean-living footballer Thomas "Tommy" MacKenzie and Francis "Franco" Begbie – who is also clean of heroin, but is an alcoholic and chain-smoking, intense psychopath with a flair for violence and embellishment.
Renton has become weary of his life on heroin and looks to change his circumstances by giving up his addiction through withdrawal. After meticulous preparation, Renton decides that he needs one final hit of heroin. Limited by urgency and options, Renton must unwillingly deal with Mikey Forrester, a drug dealer of dubious repute, who can only supply opium suppositories. Faced with little choice, Renton decides to take them, only to be hit shortly after by a violent attack of diarrhoea, due to cessation of heroin. Having seemingly kicked his habit, Renton readjusts to the world and his friends in a state of sobriety.
After a night out clubbing, Renton spots a girl named Diane Coulston, with whom he becomes infatuated. Making a bold pass at her, Diane takes Renton home with her where they have sex in her bedroom, before Renton is abruptly made to sleep in the hallway. Over breakfast the next morning, Renton engages in conversation with a couple – who he thinks are Diane's flatmates, but are actually her parents. Diane emerges to Renton's horror in a full school uniform. Diane uses the encounter and her below the age of consent as a threat against Renton to continue their relationship.
Renton, Sick Boy and Spud relapse into heroin use, and are joined by Tommy, who has since become depressed having been dumped by his girlfriend, Elizabeth, due to the unknown earlier actions of Renton. The group are then rocked by the death of Dawn, the infant daughter of Allison – a fellow user. Dawn appears to have experienced cot death without the group noticing due to being under the influence. Sick Boy is visibly more distraught than the others which suggests that he is in fact Dawn's father.
Events continue to unravel further when Renton and Spud are arrested for shoplifting, while Sick Boy escapes undetected. At their trial, Spud receives a six-month custodial sentence at HMP Saughton, while Renton escapes on probation due to entering a drug rehabilitation programme, where he is given methadone, to coax him off heroin.
Despite support from his friends and family, Renton is desperate for a more substantial high and escapes to the flat of trusted friend and drug dealer, Swanney. Taking heroin on top of his methadone replacement, Renton overdoses and almost dies. Swanney sends an unconscious Renton to hospital alone in a taxi and Renton is later revived. Upon returning home, Renton's parents lock him in his childhood bedroom to force him through a withdrawal. Trapped, Renton suffers lucid and frightening hallucinations involving his friends and family. He is released upon condition that he has a HIV/AIDS test. Despite years of sharing syringes with other addicts, Renton tests negative. Some time later, he visits Tommy, whose own heroin addiction has spiralled out of control, leaving him addicted, HIV-positive and severely ill.
Needing to escape, Renton moves to London for a fresh start and takes a job as a property letting agent. He begins to enjoy his new life of sobriety and corresponds with Diane, who keeps him up to date with developments back home. However, to Renton's frustration, Begbie tracks him down and takes up refuge with him as Begbie is wanted for armed robbery back home. They are soon joined by Sick Boy, now a pimp and drug dealer, and the three share Renton's small flat.
The group are forced to return to Edinburgh, both for Tommy's funeral and to escape the police, as Begbie is wanted for assaulting two potential buyers when Renton puts him and Sick Boy in an impossible-to-sell property being leased by Renton's boss. Tommy died from AIDS-related toxoplasmosis and his body was left undiscovered for a number of weeks. They also meet up with Spud, who has since been released from prison, and, together again, Sick Boy reveals a lucrative proposition to the group. Sick Boy has learned that Mikey Forrester (who sold Renton the opium suppositories) has come into possession of two kilos of high-quality heroin and is eager to sell. The group, however, are short of the £4,000 asking price. Unknown to Renton, Begbie had secretly seen Renton's bank statement, whilst staying in London, and when Renton initially lies about his savings, he is eventually pressured into stumping up the remaining £2,000. At the insistence of Begbie, Renton is also made to sample the heroin's purity.
The four return to London to make the deal orchestrated by Sick Boy. With some persuasive bartering from Begbie, the group secure £16,000 which they agree to be split equally (£4,000 each). Whilst celebrating at a pub, Renton secretly suggests to Spud that they could both leave with the money, but Spud, motivated by fear of Begbie and loyalty, refuses. Sick Boy interrupts the conversation, making light of Renton and Spud having not left with the money. Renton ripostes saying that he wouldn't run out on his friends. Surprisingly, Sick Boy says that he could. The moment is broken up when Begbie gets into an argument at the bar, having bumped into a man spilling his drinks. Despite Renton trying to defuse the situation, it's clear Begbie is inconsolable and violently attacks the man, glassing him in the face and kicking him repeatedly on the floor.
These events lead Renton to decide that he will attempt to leave and take the money for himself, as he can no longer tolerate his friends. The following morning while the others are asleep, Renton quietly steals the bag of money and leaves. Spud, however, is awake and witnesses Renton leaving – and while Renton gestures Spud to join him, Spud refuses again. The theft sends Begbie into a fit of rage and he destroys the hotel room where the group were staying. The police are called and Sick Boy and Spud leave discreetly while Begbie is arrested.
The film closes out with Renton walking into his future reconciled that his actions are justifiable – as he was disillusioned with Begbie, felt that Sick Boy would have done the same given the opportunity, but felt bad about Spud, as "he never hurt anybody". This prompts Renton to leave Spud's £4,000 share in a safe deposit box – which Spud is seen collecting at the end of the film.
- Ewan McGregor as Mark "Rent Boy" Renton
- Ewen Bremner as Daniel "Spud" Murphy
- Jonny Lee Miller as Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson
- Robert Carlyle as Francis "Franco" Begbie
- Kevin McKidd as Thomas "Tommy" MacKenzie
- Kelly Macdonald as Diane Coulston
- Peter Mullan as Swanney "Mother Superior"
- Susan Vidler as Allison
- Eileen Nicholas as Mrs Renton
- James Cosmo as Mr Renton
- Shirley Henderson as Gail Houston
- Stuart McQuarrie as Gavin Temperley
- Irvine Welsh as Mikey Forrester
- Kevin Allen as Andreas
- Keith Allen as the Dealer
Producer Andrew Macdonald read Irvine Welsh's book on a plane in December 1993 and felt that it could be made into a film. He turned it on to director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge in February 1994. Boyle was excited by its potential to be the "most energetic film you've ever seen – about something that ultimately ends up in purgatory or worse". Hodge read it and made it his goal to "produce a screenplay which would seem to have a beginning, a middle and an end, would last 90 minutes and would convey at least some of the spirit and the content of the book". Boyle convinced Welsh to let them option the rights to his book by writing him a letter stating that Hodge and Macdonald were "the two most important Scotsmen since Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson". Welsh remembered that originally the people wanting to option his book "wanted to make a po-faced piece of social realism like Christiane F or The Basketball Diaries". He was impressed that Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald wanted everyone to see the film and "not just the arthouse audience". In October 1994, Hodge, Boyle and Macdonald spent a lot of time discussing which chapters of the book would and would not translate into film. Hodge finished the first draft by December. Macdonald secured financing from Channel 4, a British television station known for funding independent films.
Pre-production began in April 1995. Ewan McGregor was cast after impressing Boyle and Macdonald with his work on their previous film, Shallow Grave. According to Boyle, for the role of Renton, they wanted the quality of Michael Caine's character in Alfie and Malcolm McDowell's character in A Clockwork Orange, "repulsive ... with charm "that makes you feel deeply ambiguous about what he's doing." McGregor shaved his head and lost 2 stone (12.7 kilograms) for the film. Ewen Bremner had played Renton in the stage adaptation of Trainspotting and agreed to play the role of Spud, saying he felt the characters "were part of my heritage." Boyle had heard about Jonny Lee Miller playing an American in the film Hackers and was impressed when he auditioned by doing a Sean Connery accent. For the role of Begbie, Boyle considered casting Christopher Eccleston for his resemblance to how he imagined the character in the novel, but asked Robert Carlyle instead. Carlyle said, "I've met loads of Begbies in my time. Wander round Glasgow on Saturday night and you've a good chance of running into Begbie." For the role of Diane, Boyle wanted an unknown actress so audiences would not realise that a 19-year-old was playing a 15-year-old. The filmmakers sent flyers to nightclubs and boutiques and approached people on the street, eventually hiring Kelly Macdonald. The casting of Keith Allen as "the Dealer" was a reference to Allen's role in Shallow Grave, with the implication that Allen plays the same character in both and that his death instigates the plot of Shallow Grave.
McGregor read books about crack and heroin to prepare for the role. He also went to Glasgow and met people from the Calton Athletic Recovery Group, an organisation of recovering heroin addicts. He was taught how to cook up heroin with a spoon using glucose powder. McGregor considered injecting heroin to better understand the character, but eventually decided against it.
Many of the book's stories and characters were dropped to create a cohesive script of adequate length. Danny Boyle had his actors prepare by making them watch older films about rebellious youths like The Hustler and A Clockwork Orange.
Trainspotting was shot in mid-1995 over seven weeks on a budget of £1.5 million with the cast and crew working out of an abandoned cigarette factory in Glasgow. Due to time constraints and a tight budget, most scenes were done in one take, which contributed to the grungy look of the film. For example, when Renton sinks into the floor after overdosing on heroin, the crew built a platform above a trap door and lowered the actor down. The faeces in the 'Worst Toilet in Scotland' scene was made from chocolate.
Marketing and theatrical releaseEdit
MacDonald worked with Miramax Films to sell the film as a British Pulp Fiction, flooding the market with postcards, posters, books, soundtrack albums and a revamped music video for "Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop directed by Boyle.
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, the company responsible for the distribution of the film launched a publicity campaign of half as much as the film's production costs (£850,000) in the UK alone, making the film stand out more as a Hollywood blockbuster rather than a smaller European production.
Trainspotting was able to portray itself as British and as an 'exotic' element to the international market while also staying relevant to the American public, making it an international success in its marketing.
Locations in the film include:
- The opening scene of Renton and Spud being chased by security for shoplifting is shot in Edinburgh, on Princes Street and Calton Road under Regent Bridge.
- The park where Sick Boy and Renton discuss James Bond, Sean Connery and The Name of the Rose is Rouken Glen Park in Giffnock, near Glasgow. The park was also the site of the grave in Boyle's previous film, Shallow Grave.
- Corrour railway station is the setting for the "great outdoors" scene in the film, where Tommy suggests the group climb Leum Uilleim.
- The scenes where they do their drug deal take place in Paddington. The scene where they parody the cover of the Beatles album Abbey Road takes place as they walk out of Smallbrook Mews across Craven Road to the Royal Eagle, 26–30 Craven Road, Paddington.
- The school attended by Diane is Jordanhill in Glasgow's West End.
The Trainspotting soundtracks were two best-selling albums of music centred around the film. The first is a collection of songs featured in the film, while the second includes those left out from the first soundtrack and extra songs that inspired the filmmakers during production.
The soundtrack for Trainspotting has gone on to become a pop culture phenomenon. Nearly all of the score is pre-recorded music from existing artists. This score is divided into three distinct groups, all representing a different eras and styles: The first being pop music from the 1970s, by artists such as Lou Reed and Iggy Pop; who are all musicians closely associated with drug use and are referenced throughout the original novel. The second group is the music from the Britpop era in the 1990s, with bands Blur and Pulp. Finally, there is the techno-dance music from the 1990s, including Bedrock and Ice MC.
Through the years, acclaim for the soundtrack has been sustained. In 2007, Vanity Fair ranked the Trainspotting original soundtrack at number 7 for best motion picture soundtrack in history. Additionally, Entertainment Weekly ranked the Trainspotting soundtrack as 17th on their 100 best movie soundtracks list. In 2013, Rolling Stone listed it as the 13th best soundtrack in their 25 best soundtracks. In 2015, New Musical Express praised it as a "perfect snapshot of 1996 music."
1996 saw a drastic change in British music with the rise of popularity for Britpop although old fashioned pop was still firmly rooted in British culture. With Oasis dominating the singles chart, and the Spice Girls on the rise, the face of pop shifted from guitars to digitised beats. The Trainspotting soundtrack aimed to champion the alternative music legacy of 1996 Britain with a focus on presenting electronic music on equal footing with rock music in a way that had never been done before.
Trainspotting was screened at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival but was shown out of competition, according to the filmmakers, due to its subject. It went on to become the festival's one unqualified critical and popular hit.
By the time it opened in North America, on 19 July 1996, the film had made more than $18 million in Britain. It initially opened in eight theatres in the US and Canada and on its first weekend grossed $33,000 per screen. The film expanded to 357 screens and made $16.4 million in North America, one the biggest grossing films of 1996 in limited release. Trainspotting was the highest-grossing British film of 1996, and at the time it was the fourth highest grossing British film in history. The film made £12 million in the domestic market and $72 million internationally. Based on a cost-to-return ratio, Trainspotting was the most profitable film of the year.
In Britain, Trainspotting was met with widespread acclaim from critics. Trainspotting has a 90% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 82 reviews, with a weighted score of 8.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "A brutal, often times funny, other times terrifying portrayal of drug addiction in Edinburgh. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth viewing as a realistic and entertaining reminder of the horrors of drug use". The film has an 83 metascore on Metacritic, denoting "universal acclaim". In his review for The Guardian, Derek Malcolm gave the film credit for tapping into the youth subculture of the time and felt that it was "acted out with a freedom of expression that's often astonishing."  Empire magazine gave the film five out of five stars and described the film as "something Britain can be proud of and Hollywood must be afraid of. If we Brits can make movies this good about subjects this horrific, what chance does Tinseltown have?"
American film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and praised its portrayal of addicts' experiences with each other. In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, "in McGregor ... the film has an actor whose magnetism monopolizes our attention no matter what". Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Like Scorsese and Tarantino, Boyle uses pop songs as rhapsodic mood enhancers, though in his own ravey-hypnotic style. Whether he's staging a fumbly sex montage to Sleeper's version of Atomic or having Renton go cold turkey to the ominous slow build of Underworld's Dark and Long ... Trainspotting keeps us wired to the pulse of its characters' passions". In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Trainspotting doesn't have much narrative holding it together. Nor does it really have the dramatic range to cope with such wild extremes. Most of it sticks to the same moderate pitch, with entertainment value enhanced by Mr. Boyle's savvy use of wide angles, bright colours, attractively clean compositions and a dynamic pop score".
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote, "the film's flash can't disguise the emptiness of these blasted lives. Trainspotting is 90 minutes of raw power that Boyle and a bang-on cast inject right into the vein". In his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote, "Without a doubt, this is the most provocative, enjoyable pop-cultural experience since Pulp Fiction". Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his review for the Chicago Reader, wrote, "Like Twister and Independence Day, this movie is a theme-park ride – though it's a much better one, basically a series of youthful thrills, spills, chills, and swerves rather than a story intended to say very much".
The film's release sparked controversy in some countries, including Britain, Australia and the United States, as to whether or not it promoted and romanticized drug use. U.S. Senator Bob Dole accused it of moral depravity and glorifying drug use during the 1996 U.S. presidential campaign, although he later admitted that he had not seen the film. Producer of the film Andrew Macdonald responded to these claims in a BBC interview stating "we were determined to show why people took drugs ... you had to show that it was fun and that it was awful" to which Boyle adds "It's the music and humour that makes people feel it's glamorising drugs." Despite the controversy, it was widely praised and received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in that year's Academy Awards. Time magazine ranked Trainspotting as the third best film of 1996.
The film had an immediate impact on popular culture. In 1999, Trainspotting was ranked in the 10th spot by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of all time, while in 2004 the magazine Total Film named it the fourth greatest British film of all time. That same year, Channel 4 named it as the greatest British film of all time. The Observer polled several filmmakers and film critics who voted it the best British film in the last 25 years. In 2004, the film was voted the best Scottish film of all time by the public in a poll for The List magazine. Trainspotting has since developed a cult following. It was recognised as an important film during the 1990s British cultural tour de force known as Cool Britannia. It was also featured in the documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop.
The film title is a reference to a scene where Begbie and Renton meet "an auld drunkard" who turns out to be Begbie's estranged father, in the disused Leith Central railway station, which they are using as a toilet. He asks them if they are "trainspottin'". This scene is later included as a flashback in T2 Trainspotting.
Trainspotting was nominated for two British Academy Film Awards in 1996, Best British Film and John Hodge for Best Adapted Screenplay. Hodge won in his category. Hodge also won Best Screenplay from the Evening Standard British Film Awards. The film won the Golden Space Needle (the award for Best Film) at the 1996 Seattle International Film Festival. Ewan McGregor was named Best Actor from the London Film Critics Circle, BAFTA Scotland Awards, and Empire magazine. Hodge was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost to Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade.
Style and themesEdit
Music has great importance in Boyle's films, as evidenced by the best-selling soundtracks for Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, both of which feature a lot of pop and punk rock artists. In Boyle's view, songs can be “amazing things to use because they obviously bring a lot of baggage with them. They may have painful associations, and so they inter-breathe with the material you’re using”.
The combination of visuals and music with the setting of the criminal underworld has drawn comparisons to Pulp Fiction and the films of Quentin Tarantino, that had spawned a certain type of "90s indie cinema" which "strove to dazzle the viewer with self-conscious cleverness and empty shock tactics". This impacted the shooting style of the film, which features "wildly imaginative" and "downright hallucinatory" visual imagery, achieved through a mix of "a handheld, hurtling camera", jump cuts, zoom shots, freeze frames and wide angles. This vigorous style contributed to the "breathless" pace that Boyle's films have been associated with.
For the look of the film, Boyle was influenced by the colours of Francis Bacon's paintings, which represented "a sort of in-between land – part reality, part fantasy". The scene where Renton (McGregor) dives in a toilet is a reference to Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow.
Boyle had declared his wish to make a sequel to Trainspotting which would take place nine years after the original film, based on Irvine Welsh's sequel, Porno. He was reportedly waiting until the original actors themselves aged visibly enough to portray the same characters, ravaged by time; Boyle joked that the natural vanity of actors would make it a long wait. Ewan McGregor stated in an interview that he would return for a sequel, saying "I'm totally up for it. I'd be so chuffed to be back on set with everybody and I think it would be an extraordinary experience."
In 2013, Boyle said he wanted to make a sequel that would be loosely based on Porno which he has described as "not a great book in the way that Trainspotting, the original novel, is genuinely a masterpiece". Boyle said that if the sequel happens 2016 would be the release date.
On 6 May 2014, during a BBC Radio interview with Richard Bacon, Welsh confirmed that he had spent a week with Boyle, Andrew Macdonald and the creative team behind Trainspotting to discuss the sequel. Welsh stated that the meeting was in order to "explore the story and script ideas. We're not interested in doing something that will trash the legacy of Trainspotting. ... We want to do something that's very fresh and contemporary." Welsh did not however confirm any kind of timeline for the film, unlike Boyle's comments about wanting the film to come out in 2016.
In a newspaper interview with The Scotsman on 17 November 2014, Welsh revealed that McGregor and Boyle had resolved their differences and had held meetings about the film, saying "I know Danny and Ewan are back in touch with each other again. There are others in the cast who've had a rocky road, but now also reconciled. With the Trainspotting sequel the attention is going to be even more intense this time round because the first was such a great movie—and Danny's such a colossus now. We're all protective of the Trainspotting legacy and we want to make a film that adds to that legacy and doesn’t take away from it."
In a 27 September 2015 interview with ComingSoon.net, Boyle revealed that a script for the sequel had been written, and that filming would reportedly take place between May and June 2016, in the hopes of releasing the film within that same year to commemorate Trainspotting's 20th anniversary.
While promoting Steve Jobs in November 2015, Boyle reiterated the hopes of beginning principal photography for the sequel in May and June 2016, and started pre-production in Edinburgh. Boyle also clarified that John Hodge had written an original screenplay for the sequel, which would not be a strict adaptation of Porno. An earlier script was reportedly written about 10 years prior, but was scrapped and redone so that the original cast would agree to return for a film sequel. The working title for the sequel was T2.
In a November 2015 phone interview with NME, Robert Carlyle confirmed he would be returning for the sequel to play Begbie. According to Carlyle, he and other members of the Trainspotting cast had already read John Hodge's script, which would take place 20 years (much like its intended 2016 release) after the original plot. Filming started on 16 May 2016, Carlyle praised Hodge's screenplay and hinted that T2 "is going to be quite emotional for people. Because the film sort of tells you to think about yourself. You are going to be thinking: 'Fuck. What have I done with my life?'"
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