Trainspotting film almost didn’t happen, Irvine Welsh reveals

Ewan McGregor stars in Trainspotting. Picture: comp

Ewan McGregor stars in Trainspotting. Picture: comp

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IRVINE Welsh has revealed for the first time that the screen adaptation of Trainspotting almost never made it off the starting blocks – after he sold the rights to the wrong filmmaker.

The Edinburgh author has told how he realised his mistake when he received a handwritten letter from director Danny Boyle asking for a rethink and urging him to watch his movie debut, Shallow Grave.

I was determined that any movie would have to capture the relentless energy of the novel. It needed to be, despite the often-grim subject matter, an uncompromisingly swaggering celebration of youthful camaraderie and joie de vivre.

Irvine Welsh

Welsh has recalled cursing as he watched the end credits to Boyle’s critically acclaimed thriller, which like his tale of a group of heroin addict friends was set in the writer’s home city, thinking he had blown “the best chance of producing something memorable”.

Writing in film magazine Empire, Welsh admitted he had badly blundered by failing to get an agent after the publication of Trainspotting and then signing off the rights for a lucrative sum to a producer who gave him the impression he worked with Boyle.

Channel 4 later threatened to pull the plug on its backing of the film because the rights issue was unresolved. It was only after Welsh, Boyle and producer Andrew 
Macdonald, his partner on Shallow Grave, pleaded with Noel Gay – the production company which had the rights – for a rethink that their version finally got off the ground.

The film, which saw screenwriter John Hodge nominated for an Oscar, would go on to be named the best Scottish film of all time. Recalling the bidding war for his 1993 novel, Welsh said: “I was determined that any movie would have to capture the relentless energy of the novel. It needed to be, despite the often-grim subject matter, an uncompromisingly swaggering celebration of youthful camaraderie and joie de vivre.

“The last thing I wanted was a dreary docudrama about heroin, with its stock procession of victims.

“The correspondence I received from interested filmmakers tended to be worthy. Few seemed to get where I was coming from, except one producer, offering (what was then for me) decent money.

“At this point things started to get messy, and this was largely my fault, as I didn’t have an agent.”