From the stark white on orange colour scheme to the line-up poster that adorned every magazine cover and student bedroom wall from the mid-nineties onwards, the phenomenon that was Trainspotting has left a legacy that is inescapable. Those too young to experience the film when it first came out are fully aware of its significance, and those who grew up watching the drug-addled characters’ misadventures have been impacted in ways that outsiders struggle to understand.
This follow-up, loosely based on the original author’s book Porno, starts with Renton (Ewan McGregor) recreating his famous run on the cobbles of Edinburgh, but this time in a gym in Amsterdam. The updated scenes that pepper the film all reference the first film to varying degrees, managing to tactfully pay homage whilst never over-relying on familiarity.
When Renton return ‘home’, he does so knowing he will have to face up to the consequences of his life-changing decision in 1996, when he took flight with the ill-gotten gains of a drug deal that saw him leave his friends behind.
The violent menace Begbie (an older, greyer Robert Carlyle) is facing up to a lengthy spell in prison, but with a singular thought running through his mind – “first there was an opportunity… then there was betrayal”. It’s a mantra that all the returning characters are haunted by,
Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is scamming and snorting his way through his hometown, bitter at the way in which he was robbed of his share of £16,000. His plan to open up a brothel with his on-off girlfriend Nikki (Anjela Nedyalkova) obtains an unlikely sponsor when Renton, his former best friend enters his life. In a typically masculine fashion, the two resolve their differences with a bout of violence before enlisting Spud (Ewan Bremner) to help build their dream.
This time, it’s Spud who holds the story together. His depressing, heroin-induced downward spiral from something approaching normality to suicidal thoughts is tragic. The stomach-churning sequence we remember from the first film, where Renton dives into a revolting toilet to rescue a bag of drugs is ‘one-upped’ by a suicide attempt that will have you reaching for the sick bucket.
All the while, Begbie is planning his own escape. Unaware that his target is back in Scotland, the moustachioed ticking time-bomb evades the authorities and reconnects with his teenage son, intent on showing him the ropes of criminality. When Begbie learns that his offspring is more interested in pursuing a career in hotel management, the resulting volcano of rage is predictable.
There is a brief return for Kelly McDonald too, her character Diane now a high-flying lawyer who appears in one scene, bringing the events of the past 20 years full circle. At first her limited cameo is jarring, but it eventually makes perfect sense as a result of the standout sequence in the movie. The iconic ‘choose life’ speech is given a thoroughly modern reworking, and is a thing of lyrical beauty. McGregor excels in capturing the anxieties faced by a lost generation, and also gives all the characters two decades worth of hurt and pain in a breathtaking verbal salvo. It was the one scene that could have gone horribly wrong – the trailer hints at an out-of-date frame of reference when it comes to social media – but the extended cut of this speech is heartbreaking and relatable. It’s not just the people on screen that have aged, so have all of us.
Credit has to go to Danny Boyle, who has gone on to score huge success with his subsequent films in Hollywood and beyond whilst clearly keeping his finger on the pulse of what his generation is going through.
T2 Trainspotting is one of the best British films since the original first hit cinema screens, and is arguably one of those rare sequels that matches up to its predecessor.
T2 Trainspotting is released in the UK on January 27