What makes T2 Trainspotting special is the chemistry between the leading actors. Twenty years after the original film, they still spark off each other like members of a classic band getting back together.
It’s a pleasure to see Renton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) back in Edinburgh, older and none-the-wiser – still scheming, dreaming, drugging and fighting, looking back to their lost youth and trying to find a way forward.
1996’s Trainspotting was one of the highest-grossing British films of the Nineties. A black comedy about friendship and heroin addiction, it captured the hedonistic zeitgeist and had a memorable soundtrack. With original cast, director (Danny Boyle) and writers (Irving Welsh, John Hodge) in place, T2 does a good job of recreating the old energy and magic. It might flash back to the first film, but it also creates its own ‘classic’ scenes and memories. This time around, the music’s not as good, but at least we get spared the depressing scenes of heroin addiction.
As in the original, T2 opens with Renton running – this time on a treadmill in an Amsterdam gym, rather than fleeing store detectives. He falls off, having had some kind of seizure, which prompts a return to Edinburgh. Back home, his dad tells him that his mother has died. She has left his bedroom just the same as when he left it. Renton puts on his old favourite song, Lust for Life, but then takes it off after the first note. It seems he is not yet ready to face the music.
Calling at the tower block where his old friend lives, Renton arrives just in time to stop Spud killing himself, but receives no thanks. Sickboy, Renton’s old ‘blood brother’, who now goes by ‘Simon’, is similarly dis-pleased to see him, attacking him with a pool cue and hosing him down with Irn Bru. The three friends gradually become reconciled as they catch up and talk old times.
But what has become of Begbie, their psycho old mucker? He’s been in prison for the last twenty years, burning with rage at being betrayed by Renton. When he escapes, a showdown looks likely …
Watching the two films back-to-back makes you marvel at how the actors seem to pick up from where they left off. McGregor, Miller and Carlyle have all enjoyed Hollywood success, so you might expect a bit of awkwardness here or there. But it is as if they had never been away. The most affecting performance comes from Bremner as the hapless, lovable Spud, whose personal story is the most desperate, but who finally manages to turn his life around. His ever-changing Dickensian face is worth the price of admission alone.
It is new character Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), a Bulgarian prostitute, who suggests that Spud write down the stories he tells her about his youth. Renton has already taken him running up Arthur’s Seat, while dispensing words of wisdom on the nature of addiction: ‘it’s not getting it out of your body; it’s getting it out of your mind’. The important thing is to channel it into something else.
Renton’s big speech in T2 reflects our online times, the things that have changed and the things that stubbornly refuse to change. Burdened by age and experience, his words sound more embittered this time around:
‘Choose Life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere, cares … Choose unfulfilled promise and wishing you’d done it differently …’